The Water Thing

As we’ve mentioned before, we are on a hauled water system here in Bethel. Not all of Bethel is on hauled water. There are above ground water pipes running through some areas of town. At first, I was terribly jealous of the piped part of town. However, I started seeing articles about the quality of the piped water, not to mention the danger of not knowing the cost of your water if you accidentally overuse, and I know we are probably getting the better end of the deal. One of the really odd things about the hauled water, is that it seems to be in the center part of town, if you can call any part of Bethel the center. You would think that piped water would be in the center and hauled water would be on the outskirts, but that’s not how it is set up.
So, we have a 500 gallon water tank attached to our house. Every Thursday the water truck comes and delivers water to our tank. The water tank is highly insulated and heated, I think. When we asked our landlord how we could see how much water we were using, hoping for some sort of gauge, she told us to knock on it. If it sounded hollow, we were running out. This did not prove terribly helpful for us as we always thought it sounded hollow and that we were always out. We even bought an emergency fill up once on a Monday after a holiday thinking we weren’t going to make it. Our options are a once-a-week delivery, a twice-a-week delivery, or just paying a fee for an emergency fill up when we need it. On those deliveries you have the option of a 200 or 500 gallon delivery. You get no money returned if you don’t actually need the full 500 gallons.
Finally, I called to see if they could tell me about how much we had been using in our first few deliveries. Remember, despite all of our hard work to preserve water, we thought we were within one toilet flush or so of running out of water every week. Because the tap on the tank method is so fool-proof. The man who delivers our water pulled our records and out of five deliveries we had never been delivered more than 300 gallons of water. Usually 250 or less.
So that was a relief. We were able to loosen up on ourselves a bit. We have now gone two weeks on our 500 gallon tank, using our general methods of water conservation, without running out! Woohoo! In fact, it’s a sort of odd game right now to see if I can get us to run out at 11:15 am every Thursday before our next delivery. I want a full five hundred gallons every Thursday, darn it! I haven’t made it happen yet, but it’s close. I can tell from the sound when they pump the water into the tank.
How do we manage a family of three on 500 gallons of water? We’re just kind of gross is the simple answer. The long answer is mostly in these three parts.
1) This one is my favorite as it is not a hardship. We take our stock pot into the first shower of the morning and collect all the water until it turns hot. It takes almost two full minutes for our hot water to kick in and it would be painful to let all that water go down the drain. We then hold that water to do our dishes with in the evening. It’s great because I always boil that water first and it helps me feel like we are actually disinfecting our dishes.
2) What I like to call “The Shower Train.” After the shower warms up, it would be crazy to have to do that again in a day. So after Sergio showers, I will be in the shower less than a minute or two after he vacates. When I leave, we force Rolo in there less than two minutes after I leave. And we all rush. It’s not relaxing or pleasant in the least. Rolo and I also only shower every other day…or less. But we get to have about five minutes. Sergio showers everyday but manages about two minutes. I shave my legs in the sink with a bowl of water I heat up on the stove first. And only rarely. Sexy.
3) We don’t flush much. This one is just so gross for us. We obviously flush when it’s important, but follow the “if it’s yellow” rule. This one pretty much kills me. I just don’t think about it. And clean the toilet a lot. Sergio would really rather I not even bring this one up, but this is life in the Alaskan semi-bush and you deserve to know!
Other things: We don’t let the water run while we brush our teeth or wash our faces. We do two loads of laundry per week, never setting the washer to above a medium load. If we still have water on Thursday morning, I run an extra load of laundry and collect water in buckets and bowls for extra stuff like leg shaving.
And finally, we don’t really drink the water and increasingly don’t even use it for cooking. We have signed up for a water delivery service and will have one of those office water coolers in our kitchen. The hauled water is drinkable. It is also yellow. If you have piped water it is downright red. It took a while but Sergio and I finally noticed a trend that we were getting vaguely ill when we made tea or used our ice cubes. Our dainty bellies obviously react to something in the water. Most people here either spend a fortune filtering or do what we are about to do with the filtered water deliveries.
Finally, the water truck is not the only truck to show up on Thursdays. So does the poop truck. If you have no pipes coming in, you have no pipes going out! They come empty our sceptic tanks every week as well. It’s noticeable because this being summer we have to leave the windows open most of the time. And let’s just say, you know real fast which truck is outside your window when it’s the poop truck. Stinky.
So that’s it. The water and sewer is probably our biggest adjustment so far. However, we are not using an outhouse, bucket baths, or some sort of squat system, which I have heard occurs in the full Alaskan bush, so we’re still on the pampered side.
Oh, and if you are wondering why we don’t just go to twice-a-week deliveries, it’s because it’s very expensive. Very. We might do it eventually as a luxury, but if we’re making it without too much hardship, it’s not really worth it.

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The insulated tank that is on the ground in the front is our water tank. You can see how it might be difficult to tell how much you are using. The tall tank you can see peeking over the top of the water tank is our heating oil tank. Unused at this point, and not our responsibility. Over and over we were told to rent a place that provided your heating oil because it’s a massive expense. So we did.

3 thoughts on “The Water Thing

  1. that was very interesting, not a shocker so much for me as it might be for others, as a child we had an outdoor toilet at times, but I actually think that these experiences help us to appreciate little things more, and realize that in other countries they don’t even have what you have.

    • My limited understanding is that the water pipes are almost all insulation. They look pretty big, but the actual functional part is small inside all the insulation. They can’t be put underground because of permafrost. All of that to say, no. They stay where they are.

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