Monday, September 7, 2009

When running water is not up to mark

WHEN we first got married, my wife did not notice that we had a well around my parents’ rented house.

She thought that the water, which flowed out of a tap, was from the piped water supply.

In fact, she once remarked that the water felt rather refreshing until she found out that it was from a well a short distance from the house.

Water was pumped up the tower tank for storage and piped down to the various sections of the house.

Our well also supplied water to several houses in the neighbourhood.

Our monthly “water bill” was a couple of ringgit per household — which was each household’s share of the monthly electricity consumed by the water pump.

The water was free.

Of course, the water was safe as we were living on the fringe of the city at a time when groundwater had yet to be contaminated by any industrial wa s t e .

Besides, we would know if the water was toxic — the haruan (snake - head) in the well kept a lookout for our safety.

All’s well if the fish is well.

Our well water was crystal clear except when it rained heavily the previous night.

Then it would turn slightly cloudy and we would be forced to turn to our stockpile kept in one of several t e m p aya n —giant clay jars — in the house.

Usually, if left in the t e m p aya n overnight, any turbidity would have settled the next morning.

If you scoop thewater without stirring the sediment at the bottom, you only needed to boil the water before you drink it.

I had got quite used to the taste of non-chlorinated water until we moved into an apartment later.

I was actually more worried about the safety of the pipedwater than the higher bill we had to pay.

I realised then that we had little control over the quality of the piped water.

The supply was unpredictable in both clarity and odour.

Sometimes, it looked like the teh tarik while at other times it was deceptively clear — except that it reeked of chlorine and we had to boil the water longer just to get rid of the smell.

Since there was no haruan to tell us whether the water was safe for consumption, we could only assume that it was by the smell of the chlorine.

Even that frightened us when we read about how over-chlorinated water could be just as harmful to us.

That was when we had to embrace water purification technology and install a water filter.

There are many types of water filters out there, of course.

Some are made of fibre while others of ceramic.

Better ones contain carbon said to absorb chlorine and a zeolite layer to remove heavy metals.

The more sophisticated ones even claim to have volcanic rocks that could impart minerals that have been depleted during processing so that we can reap the health benefits enjoyed by people in developed countries like the United States, Japan and South Korea.

Generally, the more expensive ones tend to be more convincing in their ability to purify drinking water.

In reality, however, I wonder how many of us actually have diagnostic kits on our kitchen tables to test the purity or have the skills to check if the filtered water was really free from contamination, let alone see if the so-called benefits actually come with the package.

More likely, we were all taken in by the advertising hype and paid a huge sum for a glorified water filtration system with fancy add-ons to ensure us peace of mind.

Come to think of it, isn’t it an irony that piped water could have spun such a huge business downstream?

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