I’ve always had a romantic notion of living off the grid. I have long dreamed of existing in harmony with nature, far away from the greedy and consuming pressures of modern society. A simple, harmless life nourished by the elements like Thoreau, or Kung Fu masters, or smelly hermits.
Now that I’ve moved to St. John, I’m one step closer. And its not just the smelly part (although I have made significant cutbacks in bathing frequency) – I’m finally living completely dependent on rainwater for all of my water needs. And yet, it hasn’t been quite the rosy-cheeked experience in vitality I once dreamed of… mainly because we can’t drink it.
Everyone we asked on island advised us not to drink our cistern water, especially since our house had sat empty for two years prior to us moving in and no one knew when the cistern had last been cleaned. The water also had a funny sulfurous smell and my girlfriend got two earaches in a row after using it to shower. Neither of those things made it particularly palatable for us at first. Though after the earaches, we had the cistern cleaned and the filter changed (which got rid of the marshy smell and the earaches), but it still begged the question, do we dare drink it? We continued to ask around as more and more Island Pure plastic gallon jugs were shamefully shoved under our kitchen sink. Instead of an environmentally conscious lifestyle, we were living like eco-rapists in a bad episode of Hoarders. Then we met Anna.
Anna is blond with bright blue eyes and a sun-kissed glow that screams health and happiness. Anna’s a vivacious outdoorswoman, a long term island resident, and our bartender. When we asked for her advice, she adamantly claimed, “I drink it, straight from the cistern, always have.” This was shocking, as she was the first person we’ve talked to who does this. And she is still alive, talking and gesticulating in front of us, living the eco-dream.
Further inquiry revealed a small catch: “But I grew up on river water in Colorado, so nothing can probably get me sick.” We take in the last statement but file it away under interesting, maybe not relevant. Because we want to drink the cistern water too.
Back home, my girlfriend plucks a glass from the shelf and turns on the tap. The water looks crystal clear as it pours from the faucet. Beautiful, delicious, unadulterated rain water. We decide to start by taking small sips each day to build up our tolerance. Soon enough, we imagine we’ll be running around the island, our cells buoyed by the same water that nourishes the palms trees, the orchids, that drops into the sea.
But then I remember the story I read about the man on St. Thomas who died of a brain-eating parasite from using his cistern water in a nasal washing ritual. I now picture us drinking the water and falling to the floor in convulsions, the toxic liquid seeping through the broken glass into the Spanish tile between us.
“Stop!” I yell.
In the end, after much hemming and hawing over budgets and costs and shipping expense, we invest in a Berkey water filter. It is an awkward round metal container that has no good place to sit in our kitchen. It is ponderously slow at filtering water, earning it my girlfriend’s nickname of “No Workey”, but it does eventually do the job. Which means no more plastic jugs of water, and I get to fulfill one part of the dream.
I now fully live off rainwater, however inconveniently filtered it is.
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What has been your experience with drinking (or not drinking) your cistern water? How do you deal with plastic drinking water bottle waste?