Opinion » Maxed Out

Water water everywhere... drop by drop to drink



I know Whistler is a year-'round, non-stop mountain resort. I know it is my own failing I still think of it as a ski town. But having spent the past dozen summers building gardens, furniture and generally puttering the warm weather away on the banks of tranquil Sulphuric Lake, I'm as unlikely to upset that routine as I'm likely to return to town much before ski season starts. Besides, this place is way too frantic during the summer tourist months for a guy used to hearing loons calling as opposed to traffic streaming by.

But there is one overriding pleasure, one big relief I feel whenever I return during summer. No, it's not the bike park. No, it's not languid afternoons on the clothing-optional dock at Lost Lake. No, it's not the vast variety of patio culture.

It's municipal services.

The things we take for granted here — running water and sewage, for example — fall solely within my jurisdiction at Smilin' Dog Manor. I am the department head and only staff for both. If nothing comes out of the tap and nothing goes down the toilet I pick up the phone and call myself.

Having enjoyed indoor plumbing all my life, I am grateful to have it at the Dog. Several nearby cottages do not enjoy the same advantage, including at least one I know of that is occupied more or less full time. I cannot imagine being Canadian enough to do the Outhouse Trot in the depths of Cariboo winter.

But I could live with that reality far more easily than I could manage without running water. The Dog is plumbed for water. Either that or the entire place is an elaborate whiskey still; I'm not entirely sure which. Two large black pipes bring water from the ice-cold depths of Sulfuric Lake to a malevolent, aging Sears pump in the corner of the basement. The pump fills up something that looks strangely like a mash kettle although someone told me it's a pressure tank.

Beyond that, it's anybody's guess. Pipes go every which way. Some double back on themselves; some just suddenly end. Some go to faucets that look like they belong out in the garden, some go to faucets that frankly make no sense at all unless one were to stick a bucket under them and catch dripping moonshine.

One pipe goes to a water heater that breathes fire every time it comes on. I'm pretty sure it's not supposed to be that entertaining but there's nothing nearby to ignite and what the hell, it's full of water anyway so what's the worst that could happen?

Upstream of the water heater is a filter. The filter concerns me way more than the predictable jet of flame employed by the water heater to remind me where I shouldn't stand while servicing the filter.

Sulfuric Lake is either azure blue or Caribbean green, depending on which way the light hits it. Floating away from its shores, you can clearly see the bottom for quite some distance and depth. I can easily see the refracted, distorted spot where the big black pipes bringing water to my still, er, house end. The water is, in a word, crystal clear. OK, two words.

Water in the filter, however, looks as though it's telling me to keep my mouth shut when I go for a swim. The first time I looked at it, shortly after putting a new filter cartridge in and turning the pump back on — don't ask how I figured out to turn the pump off before changing it — I wondered where all the silt was coming from, given the intake pipe is suspended off the mucky bottom of the lake.

Upon closer examination, however, I wondered why the silt seemed to be swimming... and had appendages. It was at that moment I began to think about looking into what alternatives there were to drinking what I couldn't assure myself was crystal clear, safe water coming out the other side of the living filter/aquarium.

The alternatives, it turned out, were limited: buy bottled water or install yet another filter of some unknown nature. Lugging bottled water 60 metres between garage and dwelling, not to mention the inevitable reality of running out right after I'd swallowed a bug and desperately needed a glass of water, moved me toward looking into filters.

There is an alarmingly large business dedicated to home water filtration as it turns out. It embraces a continuum from increasingly complex cartridge filters to reverse osmosis to nuclear-powered, ultraviolet systems. Had I chosen the latter, installation would have required a mortgage, an addition to the existing house and an environmental impact statement. Carefully considering the options, I chose something that would (a) fit under the sink and (b) could be installed using tools I own, the most useful of which are surely a hammer and chisel.

Getting under the kitchen sink in most homes is a challenge. Getting under my sink requires maneuvers most often associated with contortionists who fold themselves into suitcases. Having thoroughly read the Dual Filtration Unit's instructions and assembled every conceivable tool I'd need to do an amateurish-yet-slapdash job of installation, I folded myself into the cupboard. Shortly thereafter, the First Rule of Home Repair kicked in. It states, I paraphrase, "No matter how many tools you have at hand, the probability of not having the tool you need is directly proportional to the difficulty experienced in getting into position to do the work."

The instructions suggested the job might take an hour. Shortly before midnight — the next day — I finished... sort of. Spec for my filtration system is ¾ of a gallon per minute. I needed a calendar to time ¾ of a gallon dribbling out of the little tap. I've seen drunken adults drool faster than pure, filtered water was coming out. Something was amiss.

Noticing the flow of water from the regular kitchen sink faucet was a bit anemic, I began to suspect the filter/aquarium in the basement might be clogged. I replaced it and water flowed like Niagara Falls from all the faucets... except the little one attached to the Dual Filtration Unit which was now flowing like drool from a drunken adult who came to consciousness long enough to catch sight of his waitress' cleavage, which is to say faster but still not up to spec.

Living in cottage country is all about compromises. You trade the hustle and bustle of big city life — Whistler — for the tranquil contemplation of blue skies, sunlight beaming off dimpled water, clear skies full of stars and silent nights, broken only by the steady drip of filtered water filling empty water jugs. Surely by morning...


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