The Amazing Privilege of Running Water

I have a challenge for you.

Don’t use your faucets, don’t run your dishwasher, and don’t start your washing machine. Take one day out of your life and try to maintain your normal routine without using running water.

Where will you get water? Maybe, you’ll have to drive to the store and pick up a couple gallons. Maybe, you’ll have to melt some snow or boil some water from a nearby water source. Maybe, you’ll have to go to the water tank in the local village and carry water home by the gallons.

Would you be up for it?

Could you do it for more than a day?



Growing up, I didn’t ever feel like I was wanting for anything. When I became more connected with the world, I felt like I never stopped wanting. Every time I live somewhere new and meet new people, I feel humbled. My wanting is nothing compared to some realities.


I’ve lived without dishwashers and washing machines. Learning to wash clothes by hand, made me realize the blessings of machinery and tide pods (before they were edible). Perhaps it was my own laziness, but my clothes never seemed as dirty after a couple wears when I knew that I’d have to wash them by hand.


I’ve lived without internet and ever connected cellphone service. When there were riots in Venezuela following the 2013 election and I couldn’t leave my house for safety reasons, I was never more thankful that back home I had internet at home and didn’t need to walk to the local internet café. (Let’s not forget the thankfulness I felt of returning to the US and finally having access to buy toilet paper, flour, bread, milk, and meat.)


When I moved to South America and asked for a water at the restaurant and they charged me for it, I quickly realized the privilege that people in the US have when it comes to access to clean drinking water. Not only have I never had a parasite from water in the US, I can also go to a restaurant and drink water…for free! Imagine the pandemonium it would cause to have to pay for water at a restaurant in the U.S! I had been spoiled.


Now, here I am, in the northwest arctic of Alaska, on a small island that will soon be underwater due to rising ocean levels and warmer weather’s intense storms and I’m completely humbled again.


Because of the need to relocate, the funding to improve the infrastructure of the village in its current location is practically nonexistent.


There is no running water…with one exception…the school…and in turn, teachers.


Not only do teachers have some of the highest incomes of people on the island (the main place of employment is the school or the nearby mine and many villagers live a subsistence life), but theirs are the only houses that are hooked up to running water. Being a part of the “elite” has me feeling separated from the community and that is an emotionally draining thing for me. I will never be able to understand their hardships and life, even as their neighbor, and that continues to bother me.


The villagers must go to the washateria to get their water, five gallons for a quarter is the going price, I believe. The washateria sits on the middle of the island, not too far from the school or the villagers’ houses, but without a snowmobile, hauling 5 gallon tubs of water across the island in subzero temperatures can be its own challenge.


Imagine having to go out and get all the water you would need that day. Water for dishes, for cooking, for brushing your teeth. Water for washing your body, cleaning your hair, doing your laundry.


I see the signs in my students now that I know where to look. There is a frustration of getting dirty right after the day they’ve taken a bath. There is a need to always wash their hands when they feel the least bit dirty, because at school they just have to turn the faucet. There is the constant desire to fill their water bottles and guzzle it down. Don’t even get me started on their desire to use the flush toilets because they aren’t the typical “honey pots” that they have to take out to the dump (or lazily outside their windows) and empty.


Not only are some students lacking in food and comfort at home, but they also have troubles with water.


I may have had limited access to things while growing up, but I never had to worry about water…and I still don’t…in a way.


Now, that doesn’t mean that I have water galore. Before I took a venture and learned more about the villagers’ lives, I was struggling with my own water consumption.


Living in the village has forced me to change my water consumption habits. I don’t shower every day and I don’t wash my hair every time. I turn off the faucet while brushing my teeth, washing the dishes, and cleaning my hair and body. I don’t flush every time I go to the bathroom, and I don’t do laundry every week. I don’t clean the floors religiously and I don’t always wipe down my tables. I think about how I use water constantly. Do I have to be this conscience about my water usage? Maybe not…but it is one way that I can do my small part in taking care of the community.


You see, the village has limited water. In the fall, before the freeze, the washateria is filled with only so many gallons. That needs to last the entire village from October to May. If the water gets to a certain percentage, the villagers are cut off. The remaining water is for the functioning of the school, which in turn also means the teachers. (If having running water already didn’t make me feel like a crappy person.)


If the remaining amount runs out, then the island is completely out of water.


Because of my profession, I have been blessed with running water and the ability to have longer access to water. I didn’t realize how special that would be. It was something I took for granted everywhere else that I have lived. On an island, surrounded by one form of water or another, water is limited. The hardships that brings, has been one of the most humbling realizations of my life.


Because of my profession, I have the means to travel back to places where I’ll have access to that long hot shower I so desperately miss. Yet another reason to be humbled.


5 thoughts on “The Amazing Privilege of Running Water

  1. Your situation is very different from ours in that we pump water out of the river all winter to fill our tank. Water conservation is not an issue, and water is free at the washateria, though showers and laundry are not (students shower free at school).

    I think running water is a convenience, but not a necessity in communities where there is infrastructure in place to support dry living. Hauling water is much nicer than worrying about freezing or decaying pipes, especially for families that don’t stay all winter and find it easier to let the house freeze. Hauling water is almost zero maintenance, and in our village we have trouble just maintaining the washateria. I can’t imagine what it would be like if we had pipes freezing and breaking all over town.

    I dunno, people talk about how important it is to bring running water to the villages, but in some cases I think it’s not as simple as those people make it out to be. Again, we’re fortunate to live on a fresh river (some people drink out of it without boiling the water first – especially when the water plant is down – and I don’t know anyone who has gotten sick) and to not worry about limiting water use. My experience is very different from yours, but it sounds like your challenge is more with limited access to drinking water, not so much with the existence or lack-thereof of running water.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree! The more I’ve been around it, the more I’ve realized that it isn’t a necessity, and I do agree that bringing running water to places may cause other problems! Pipes have a tendency to burst in teacher housing when the temperatures get low and the wind picks up.

      Also, after reading your posts about your dry house, I myself have been considering moving somewhere into a dry home whenever I move away from the village!

      The conservation definitely weighed on my mind a lot in the beginning, but once I got used to it, it really isn’t that difficult to cut down on water usage. I suppose, though, that I may feel differently if the village runs out of water before the end of the school year.

      The community here seems to want running water in their homes and there is talk that if/when they relocate the village, they will put in a water system so that running water is a possibility. I just hadn’t even thought much about water conservation or having to haul water before living here! I think there are some moments when both limitations and lack of running water can make it difficult for those living without it (especially with bed bugs and lice), but I do agree, it is more of a convenience…a convenience that a lot of people take for granted, but a convenience nonetheless!

      How long did it take you to get used to living in a dry house?
      How much water do you use daily/weekly?
      How far of a commute is it for you to haul that water?


      1. We haul water every few days, and we haul about 25 gallons at a time with the snowmachine. It’s not far, and the snowmachine allows us to travel most any distance reasonably with a load. We use it for drinking, cleaning and for dishes, and we shower and do laundry at the school. It’s a lot of work, but I really truly prefer the way it allows us to use space in our cabin.
        It didn’t take long to get used to, but I was moving in with someone who had good systems in place. It would have taken me ages to figure it out on my own.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. It is neat, but it is also time-consuming. I think you should give it a go, though. It’s different in a good way. Let me know if you want some ideas 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s