In 2013, a cold wave passed over the Midwestern U.S. dropping temperatures to record low levels. At that time, I was living in a city called Jerseyville in South Central Illinois just north of St. Louis, Mo. I was renting a quaint little home with a deck out back and a small yard.
It was a great place to live for my first job out of college, but the house was rather old, and when this cold front—dubbed the Polar Vortex—blanketed the Midwest, it froze and burst a water pipe in the cellar under the home. I had never encountered this before, and it truly put water’s value into perspective for me.
The day started off normal as the break didn’t occur until mid morning, meaning I did not discover it until I came home for my lunch break (the office was five minutes away). Needless to say, my afternoon priorities changed upon the break’s discovery. I called the landlord to have the issue fixed, but they said it would be at least 24 hours before anything could be done.
In that time, I realized that I could only eat prepared foods or sandwiches. My Kraft Mac & Cheese staple was an impossibility. And worse yet, even if I made those prepared foods, I’d have dishes to wash and no water to wash them! All the small things I used water for I finally recognized as I had taken it for granted for so long.
That recognition was never more apparent than the next morning when I realized I could not brew coffee, use the bathroom or take a shower. I called my boss who lived down the street, and he offered me to use his facilities to get ready for work that day. I’m thankful I had a support network to help me through that period of time without water, as it would have made the experience far more stressful and debilitating otherwise.
Armed with that experience, I could put some of the city’s water issues into a much better perspective as a reporter for the local newspaper, Jersey County Journal. Jerseyvllle is a small community of around 10,000 people in a county of approximately 20,000. Prior to me moving there after college, it had initiated an upgrade to its water plant and raised water rates. This obviously was a controversial move and that enraged many in the community who thought paying $15 per month was exorbitant.
But I knew better. I knew the value of water and I shared my story to those who would listen. It may not have connected with everybody, but for those it did, they also learned how to value water.