Clean water cause to celebrate

By Milton J. Valencia and Brian Ballou
Globe Staff / May 5, 2010

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Matt Wilding went hunting for a fresh-brewed cup of coffee. Abi Green could not wait to wash dishes. After news that water was safe again, hundreds of thousands joyously let their faucets run.

After less than three days under orders to avoid drinking, washing hands, or cooking with tap water, celebrations of relief took many forms. And many discovered they had a whole new perspective about turning on the tap.

“You don’t realize until you don’t have it, how much you use this stuff,’’ said Nadene Daley of Canton, who said she had to guard her granddaughter from drinking the water and used bottled water for her dog. “It has been quite a headache.’’

Becky Smith, water coordinator for Clean Water Action, a nonprofit citizens advocacy group, said yesterday that the reaction to the leak shows that people tend to assume they will always have clean water.

New England is rich in water resources, she said, but the vast plumbing network that treats it and delivers it to the kitchen sink is seldom given much thought.

“Infrastructure that is underground and out of sight is out of mind, until there is a problem there,’’ Smith said.

She said the leak underscores the need to reexamine the way the area manages the delivery of its drinking water: a state Water Infrastructure Finance Commission is expected to meet for the first time today to discuss an aging system, estimated to need $8 billion in upgrades and repairs.

Ellen Marie Douglas, an assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston, added that the leak, while annoying, should provoke residents to be mindful of the privileges they have: the ability to brush teeth with tap water, and to drink from a water fountain, something unheard of in developing countries.

Worldwide, 1.2 billion people go without clean drinking water, something locals had to do without for only a few days, Douglas said, citing World Health Organization statistics.

In Massachusetts, locals were concerned with getting water in their mouth while taking a shower, or eating food after washing their hands.

A boil water order?

“These are things we’re just not used to,’’ Douglas said. “We are really lucky, and the reason we have had this increase in life expectancy, and health and life quality, a lot of it has to do with improving the infrastructure for our drinking supply and sanitary waste.’’

Across the state, residents and communities reacted differently. Towns like Winthrop, for instance, requested truckloads of water from state emergency officials, in case it took longer to repair the leak, while officials in Chelsea counted on stores to provide water for residents.

Ron Pasquarosa, 48, of Canton said he simply relied on the bottled water he had at his home, while Norma Rosenberg, 79, of Brookline waited until the boil-water order was lifted to water her flowers.

Donato Frattaroli of Lucia Ristorante & Bar in Boston’s North End said that the local business community reacted appropriately to the boil-water order, choosing to stay open but following city inspectors’ orders. His only concern now, he joked, is what to do with the abundance of bottled water he bought.

Ayanna Mattison, 24, said she was worried about her 7-year-old daughter as she struggled to find bottled water at local markets. But she pointed out the turn of events yesterday, as she waited for a bus at Dudley Station and watched people pouring into the Dunkin’ Donuts, which had not been able to brew coffee until then.

“Now you see everybody with their water, their coffee, everybody’s happy,’’ she said.

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