Running Water- Needs Vs Wants

A while back I had a series of posts that dealt with the topic of needs and wants, meant to get us (myself included) to consider the things we take for granted, and to pontificate about whether or not those things are really essential for our survival. By doing so, it would help us appreciate all of the extra things that we do have, instead of focusing on the things that we lack that the Jones of our society try to convince us are needs. And if push came to shove and we were very desperate, what things could we possibly make do without?
I decided to revisit the topic, as Sunday I got inspiration from the most unlikely of places- a water outage that left us without running water for nearly the entire day.
So- running water- need or want?

Usually when I do this type of thing, my modus operandi and way of looking at things is- did our ancestors live without these things for thousands of years (like telephones, cell phones, electricity, running hot water, internet), and if so, they can't possibly be needs, even if they make life much more convenient and are still a good idea to have.

Devastation in Japan. Heartbreaking.
On Saturday, I was sitting with my husband in the park, looking at all the luscious vegetation, and reflecting on the dire situation of many of our brethren in Japan, who are suffering tremendously because of the massive earthquake, tsunami, radiation, etc. Our mind was on natural disasters, and Mike asked aloud “If we had a natural disaster here, or some other disaster that would cause the supermarkets to stop being stocked, would we be able to survive? I'd think that we'd have a lot better of a chance at survival and not starving because of the knowledge you have on edible wild plants.”
I thought for a good while, and then concluded that while my foraging knowledge would definitely be a boon, we most likely wouldn't be able to survive on wild plants alone, because other than the few types of nuts I'm able to forage, as well as olives, most of what I am able to get, while nutritionally dense, is very low calorie, and without a lot of protein or carbohydrates.
That in turn inspired a talk about whether we'd really be prepared in case of a disaster, and we discussed what things we should stockpile- just 'in case'. Rice and beans immediately came to mind, as they don't take up so much room, don't require refrigeration, are very filling, and are high both in carbohydrates and in protein.
The only question was- if disaster should strike, would we have the water needed to cook those foods?

Living With No Running Water- Even For a Day
Back to Sunday, and the very frustrating water outage. I woke up in the morning to an awful clanging in the pipes- the toilet was trying to refill its tank, but as there was no water available, the result was a head splitting ruckus.
I needed a drink, but couldn't get any. Tea, coffee, powdered milk, lemonade- all required use of tap water to prepare- water I didn't have. I quenched my thirst with the only 2 things available- some juicy oranges, and some rather expensive grape juice which we had been saving for a special occasion, but had no other choice- a person needs to drink, especially someone like myself who is dehydrates easily, especially someone still nursing the whole night long (yes!!! I'm trying desperately to night wean, but most nights I'm too zonked to do anything about it).
Breakfast was the next challenge of the day. All my usual choices were out. Eggnog, milk shakes, pudding, oatmeal, cream of wheat, pancakes, muffins, bread- all required water to prepare. Without water, we were in trouble.
Fortunately I have amazing friends. As I was figuring what to do (going to the Mom and Pop's pushing two kids in a stroller up a large hill- without having had anything substantial to eat or drink- and I'm hypoglycemic to boot- sounded like a sure way to get me to pass out), my friend called up, discovered my plight, and brought over 3 bottles of water from her sink. Apparently they only had shut off water on my street; she had more than enough water to share.
Once I had some water, I was panicking a bit less, was able to breathe more easily and decide my plan of action. I had three bottles to last me the day- what could I make that needed little or no water, so we could save what little we had for drinking?
I discovered in my freezer some barley I had cooked a few weeks back, and frozen, because I'd made too much. With that, I served a stir fry made with all different types of veggies I had in my fridge and freezer that didn't require washing, either because they were peelable, or because I had washed them already (from beets to cabbage, onions to orange rinds, and carrots, edible flowers, and frozen green beans) and topped with sesame seeds. It certainly was an odd meal, but was filling and tasted decently enough.
That evening, when our water finally was turned back on, I was thinking about how much easier my day would have been if I were anyone other than myself. I would have probably had at least a case of bottled water, soft drinks, soda, or juices. I most likely would have had milk, store bought bread, cereal, canned and frozen veggies and beans, chicken, cheese, etc... all of which can be prepared with no water. My extreme frugality means that I rarely have these things in my house. Most of the foods we eat are bought in bulk, and dehydrated in order for them to be shelf stable (powdered milk, mashed potato flakes, noodles), or are water free in their unprocessed form (rice, flour, beans, lentil). The typical water filled vegetables in my house are foraged, and require a good scrubbing in the sink before eating.
Cloth diapers also need to be washed with water. As do our non disposable dishes and baking pans. I use water for so many things other than drinking.
A frugal life needs water, and lots of it, even if you try to conserve as much water as possible.

But is running water really a necessity?
As I said above, with most things in life, if humanity lived without something for thousands of years, and if people continue to survive and thrive without it in less civilized areas, then those things can't possibly be necessary for survival.
Running water, unfortunately, is completely different. While it shouldn't be necessary, society has made it a need for our very survival.

An old fashioned well.
Once upon a time, and still in less civilized areas of the world today, villages and cities were all built around water sources. Rivers and lakes, streams, creeks, and natural springs. Where you'd find people, you'd find bodies of water, and visa versa. When there wasn't a natural body of water somewhere, wells were dug into the ground, so people would have access to the water even if they weren't in the immediate vicinity of water.

Today, most communities aren't built around water sources. Locations are chosen for a large variety of reasons, but with plumbing available to bring running water to homes, there doesn't need to be a spring, river, or lake right nearby. In some areas people do use well water, but even they are not like they were in the past- they're typically pumped using electricity, to provide running water for people in the area. Not at all like the old fashioned wells which used your own muscles, that can work even without electricity.

Disaster Preparedness
Haiti Earthquake Victims
In all honesty- I have no idea where the nearest body of water is. If disaster should strike and there be no running water where I live long term (that would include no deliveries of bottled water to my local Mom and Pop's), I would have no clue where to even go to look for water. I do know of a stream about a 20 minute drive away, but that wouldn't help me at all as I have no car, and anyhow I can't imagine gasoline would be readily available in case of a large scale disaster. (This isn't aren't a walkable 20 minute drive- it's up and down mountains, and takes 20 minutes when driving a good 65 miles per hour.)
I recently found out that there are some old fashioned wells in the vicinity, but they're hidden so well by those who dug them (they're on public land) that I would have no idea where to even start looking for one.
I have to face it- without running water, I'd be royally screwed. This concept is dreadful and frightens me, because I do live in an area prone to disasters, both natural and man made. What if, what if, is what runs through my head. What if I didn't have to go just a few hours without running water, but needed to survive long term without?

A rain barrel in position
In the olden days, many people used to have rain cisterns, where they'd gather rain water during rainy times, to be able to use for every day use. The modern alternative to this is a rain barrel, usually positioned under a gutter, to be able to catch and store as much water as possible.
We don't have a yard and we don't really have a place to store a rain barrel on our 20 square foot front porch that we share with our neighbors, but I'm tempted nonetheless to get a rain barrel. Somehow. Even though there can be months between one rainfall and the next, and a rain barrel wouldn't hold enough water to last us throughout the dry season.
When we get land of our own, or at least live in a place with some semblance of a yard, I want to get as many rain barrels as possible, because otherwise, running water becomes a dire need.
Oh, did I mention- because I dehydrate really easily, lack of water freaks me out?
In the meantime, I think I'll be filling as many bottles of water as possible and store them in our “little room” in our house, so I never get caught without water again. And pray that I never have to worry about going without running water for a long period of time.

In summation- running water? Definitely a need; our very survival depends on it because of lack of access to fresh water sources and wells.

Where you live, do you know where the nearest body of fresh water is? If you ever had to go without running water, how would you manage? Do you store water in a rain barrel, stock bottled water, or anything like that in case of a disaster?
What percentage of the foods you make and things you do require water? If you had no water for a day, what foods would you make to serve your family?

Penniless Parenting

Mommy, wife, writer, baker, chef, crafter, sewer, teacher, babysitter, cleaning lady, penny pincher, frugal gal


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  1. After having lived in a rural house with non-potable well water I've gotten into the habit of having a water cooler. It's now a convenience instead of a necessity like it used to be, but we still have it in our new house. We keep 4 18L bottles for it, and a minimum of 2 are always full, so if we no longer had tapwater, we could use it.

  2. I am originally from Australia now living in an African country. There are many things I thought were needs, which are now luxuries (I came across your blog needing a wax recipe as my town has no beauty shops that do waxing). Running water is a luxury. Most days we have water (albeit only cold and a low pressure stream), but we can go even a week with nothing. And its non-drinkable.
    So we have a 70L container and 20 20L containers full of tap water and 10 20L containers ready to be filled with rainwater for cooking and drinking. Luckily we have the space, though our spare room looks unsightly. Rather than buying drinking water for hot drinks and cooking (we still do for cold drinks), collecting rainwater after waiting for the initial rain to clean our roof has saved us $200 per yr.
    Thanks for all your ideas- next is making hypoallergenic soap (can't be even bought here!)

  3. And I have to admit that it gives me a huge satisfaction to know that, short of a dramatic God-like drought, we will always have water. It truly is the elixir of life! best water filter system

  4. Like Anonymous above, I lived in Ghana (an African country), but I had no running water the whole time and it was fine. We had a bucket 3ft high to store water and fetched water in town whenever we ran out to fill it up again. It usually lasted us a few days, unless I washed our clothes.

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