The joys of living in a rural French commune. We currently have to collect our drinking water daily in bottles from the Syndicat des Eaux (local water board), which for us involves a round trip of about 18 kilometres. The tap water is contaminated with cryptosporidium parasites that cause respiratory and gastrointestinal illness, and may not be safe to drink. Because of the drought? Nope. The opposite.
Last week, the hot, dry weather broke with a violent thunderstorm and torrential rain. The rain continued and we had 104 mm in four days. While it’s not unusual for it to rain heavily during a storm, it is unusual for it to continue for so long at the end of June.
The water problem began last week but I heard about it on Tuesday from a friend. The water board’s strenuous efforts to inform the local people included sticking up a couple of flyers on the village notice board. One can be forgiven for walking past without consulting it, since the notices usually list tediously dull electoral or planning regulations.
To be fair, our commune covers a large area and it would be difficult to inform all the households separately. The Syndicat presumably expected that the news would travel by word of mouth, which it mostly did.
The Syndicat is distributing three litres of water per person per day, with double rations on Saturday to last the weekend. When we told the employee that we couldn’t come tomorrow he reluctantly gave us that as well.
They write down your name to make sure you don’t sneakily come back for more a couple of hours later. A friend who was behind us in the queue said they almost refused to give him any yesterday, since they maintained he had already claimed his daily ration. It turned out that it was a different person with a similar name.
Cause and effect
What is the cause of this mishap? Culpability seems to centre on a particular dairy farm, which is on top of the hill above the underground watercourse that feeds our water supply. One explanation is that a slurry pit, or something equally noxious, overflowed during the deluge and got swept into the watercourse. Another is that the cows have been pastured in a field immediately above the stream and their effluent was washed in by the unusually heavy rain. The cynic in me says that this may well have been going on for years, in that case, and was simply exacerbated by the weather.
Whatever the ultimate cause, a solution may not be imminent. We asked the Syndicat employee how long the situation might continue. Further analyses will be carried out on Monday and a mobile ultra-level filtration system will be put in place – but that will take at least a week. However, something tells me we may be making the long daily trek throughout the summer.
In the meantime, the water is apparently safe for cooking provided you boil it for five minutes. You’d be surprised how quickly you get through three litres of water. And this, perhaps, is the salutary lesson to emerge from the situation. Having to be frugal with water makes us realise just how profligate we are with the tap water normally. For many people on the planet, three litres a day would be a luxury.
Anyway, who needs water when we’ve got wine?
P.S. The post title is adapted from Coleridge’s ‘The Ancient Mariner’. The original is, “Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink.”
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