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Rural Water Just Tastes Better - Sometimes

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DRINKING WATER
Adam Lister
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Living in the country and living in town can be quite different in many ways. It's not just the trees and the stars -- we have them in the country. It's not just the noise and the traffic -- we don't have those in the country.

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One of the things that people often overlook when comparing city life with country living is the water. I was trying to articulate this to an urban colleague a few days ago. Living in the country has its water advantages, but it also has water drawbacks.

The joy of rural water

The first thing you'll notice about rural water is that it just tastes better. Sometimes. Our water does, and there is a reason for that.

As I was explaining to my colleague, when we were house shopping, my top concern was the taste of the water. I still have vivid childhood memories of tasting "egg water" at camp. You can redecorate a house, but you can't change the water supply. So my first test when house shopping was always to taste the water.

Rural water tastes better, because it doesn't have all the chemicals that city water has. While visiting my mom in Montreal, I would often bring my own water. Why? Because her tap water tasted like a swimming pool. Sure, the chlorine in the water killed germs and bacteria, but I really did not like the taste.

And what about fluoride? Many municipalities put fluoride in the water to help reduce cavities. It might have once been effective, but studies show that:

"The rate of tooth decay has been declining dramatically, both in countries that have high levels of water fluoridation and those that do not."

Even if water fluoridation brings some dental benefits, it is a hugely inefficient way to do it.

Consider what happens when you drink. You take water in your mouth and swish it around for several minutes before swallowing, giving the fluoride time to nicely coat your teeth. Huh? No way! You swallow the water straight away, pretty much by-passing the teeth.

Most of the fluoride in your drinking water ends up in your stomach, with some of it perhaps coating your tongue, throat and esophagus.

A much more efficient way to get fluoride onto our teeth is in toothpaste. Unlike drinking water, you don't swallow the toothpaste. People typically brush their teeth twice a day for two to five minutes each time. The toothpaste is applied directly to the teeth -- to all teeth -- and remains there for several minutes.

And toothpaste reaches more people. Whereas everybody drinks water, it is not necessarily fluoridated water. Rural people drink from wells and many city people drink bottled water. But almost everybody uses toothpaste.

No chlorine. No fluoride. And no water bill. Three great reasons to love rural water.

Is fluoride in the water harmful? There are many people who believe it is. There are conspiracy theories based on the myth that the Nazis used fluoride in the water to pacify the Jews. There are also less-known, more-scientific reasons to be skeptical about fluoride in drinking water, including reduced IQ and the rise of ADHD. The debate rages on.

My own view is that what we put in our stomachs should be as close to nature as possible. If there was a compelling reason to put fluoride in drinking water, the debate would be different. But why purposefully run the risk, when the benefits are so questionable?

Water is also free in the country. We don't get a water bill.

No chlorine. No fluoride. And no water bill. Three great reasons to love rural water.

The pitfalls of rural water

But rural water has its pitfalls. Rural water is often hard water. That means that it has a high mineral content, which can clog one's pipes. We have already been through one dishwasher in the past decade, and I suspect in a few years we'll need another. I blame it on the ravages of hard water.

There are ways to soften the water, but they are costly. According to Anta Plumbing:

"Once you have established that you do have hard water, you could use a water softener to treat it. You can buy a small freestanding or under-sink water filter for your drinking water, or you can invest in a whole-house water softener that will prevent limescale from damaging fixtures and causing hassles in the rest of the home as well."

A system that would keep the hard water out of all your pipes and all your appliances is fairly substantial, often involving multiple tanks.

One inconvenience of pulling water from a well is that the water needs to be tested. In fact, personal-finance specialist Gail Vaz-Oxlade advises a full water testing program before even buying a home.

"If you're moving to a property that gets its water from a well, you need to know if that water is potable. The only way to know is to have the water tested (best on three separate dates, including after a heavy rainfall). Check with neighbours if you can to see how reliable the watertable is in the area. You can negotiate these costs with the vendor and list them in your Offer to Purchase."

This testing needs to continue a couple times every year, which -- heh, heh -- is a challenging regime for busy people to follow. (Please do as I say, not as I do.)

While there might occasionally be pipe issues that require digging in the city, they are much more common in the country. Last year, dirty brown water was flowing in through our taps. We had to dig up our well to find the problem. Fortunately, the leak was only six feet deep, and required a minor repair to the connection between the well and the tube leading to the house.

Still, there is a cost to digging and a cost for three plumbers onsite for several hours. And the experience is not a pleasant one, either.

One other inconvenience is that, in rural areas, the electricity goes out more frequently. For us, it's typically a couple times per year. That means no electric water pump.

We usually get warning signs before losing electricity. The first thing we do is fill up bottles with fresh drinking water, and put water in the bath tub (not high enough for the cats to drown if they fall in). When the electricity goes out, at least we still have water for cleaning and flushing.

What about sewage?

With city water comes city sewage. With rural water comes septic tanks and septic fields. That's another topic for another day, but let me just end by saying that a year ago, I had to set fire to my septic tank.

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