Soaking Up Meaning: A Flood, a Honcho and the Significance of Clean Water


Standing barefoot in the puddle in my house, I thought, what a waste of water. Never mind the rug, the books and the baseboards—this was the snowpack melting off of the Rockies, the water we need in Lake Mead, the type of clean, drinkable water West Virginians had recently lost to contamination—now soaking into the foundation of my guest bedroom.

A pipe had burst in the bathroom and flooded the hallway, and then the bedroom, and finally seeped into the foyer before my girlfriend saw it and we freaked out. All of this had happened in less than an hour.

As I mopped, my thoughts ran the gamut: I’ve never liked this rug anyway; what would Pat Mulroy—er, John Entsminger—say?; hope the insurance covers this; man, my feet are cold.

But mostly—still groggy from sleep and without my morning coffee yet—I kept thinking of the value of water. It’s a little weird, of course, because I knew Lake Mead wasn’t circling the drain because of this one pipe—but when you witness the speed at which water can flood your house, you start to think about the myriad ways it flows all over the Valley, and then consider its power in both overabundance and scarcity.

Entsminger will take over the Las Vegas Valley Water District and Southern Nevada Water Authority when longtime water czar Pat Mulroy retires February 6. While he anticipates wrestling with the politics of siphoning water from Northern Nevada to keep the mirage of Las Vegas from going thirsty, and we plod on only considering the issue in the abstract, 300,000 residents of West Virginia learned firsthand what it means when there’s no water.

A chemical company leaked 7,500 gallons of the dangerous coal-cleaning chemical MCHM into the Elk River just above a water-distribution plant. Authorities ordered residents in nine counties to stop using their water for everything except flushing toilets—meaning restaurants couldn’t serve food, people couldn’t bathe or wash their hands or brush their teeth or wash their clothes or dishes, and bottled water had to be trucked in by the National Guard to drink.

So the power of an early-morning micro-flood in my house reminded me of how fortunate we are to have a clean water source. It’s amazing that we have been able, for so long, to channel natural water supplies through a maze of aqueducts and pipes into our desert homes.

But the chemical spill in West Virginia reminds us that life as we know it—business, health, habitability—ends without clean water.