January 17, 2007

It's a black water day in the neighborhood


You are probably wondering what the heck I mean by that. It's not a euphemism or Honduran or Texan lingo. What I mean is that we have black water coming out of our faucets and filling our toilets. Literally, black water. It looks like coffee that has been left on the burner for 16 hours or like used motor oil when it hasn't been changed for 6 months.

This is not trick photography!

Somewhere, somehow, sometime this morning, the water was turned off in the neighborhood. When the water recommenced, the force of the water rushing through the empty pipes or the neighborhood tank dislodged all the black goo that lines the tank and pipes and pushed it all into our household system.

I found out in the second worst possible way. I was still half asleep, washing my face with my eyes closed. When I opened them, I discovered the black water pouring out of the faucet. That is what I had been washing my face with.

What is the worst possible way? Discover it after you've been brushing your teeth. Eeeek!

Since this happens on average once a month − but sometimes as frequently as twice a day − we have a regular procedure for cleaning out the household water system. It involves wasting hundreds of gallons of water, of which I'm not proud, but what else can you do? You can't use this water for anything. We do drain quite a bit outside on the lawn, but it's still a waste because the lawn doesn't need watering.

We disconnect the water filter* outside and let the water run until it is clear. Then we run some of the outside faucets hoping to drain as much dirty water as possible outside the house.

Then, one by one, we remove the strainers from the all the faucets in the house and run them until the water runs clear, trying carefully not to flush any toilets in the meantime. This has to be done one or two faucets at a time because otherwise there isn't enough pressure to clean out the lines.

If someone has flushed a toilet, it fills up with black water and the only way to remove all of the black water from the toilet tank is to turn off the cutoff valve, drain the tank, and manually clean it out.
(Thank me, I'm sparing you a picture of the toilet.) If anyone has mistakenly turned on the hot water, then we have to drain the hot water heater, too.

Then, of course, every sink, shower, tub, and toilet have to be cleaned because they are covered with oily black stains. Usually I run a couple of rinse cycles on the washer as well, just in case there is any black water inside those lines. Most of my clothes have already been ruined.

What a fun day for everyone in our neighborhood. And I'll bet that every single household has a maid to clean it for them, except me!

*The water filter is a joke. We've had it on 'by-pass' since the first month. Within 24 hours, the filter is completely black or red with sand. It's completely useless.
At first I thought I could just rinse out the filter since I'm not really trying to purify the water, just trying to keep out the sand and dirt. I soon discovered that the filter needed to be rinsed for about 30 minutes each and every day, and even then, it's impossible to rinse all the junk out of the 1000-layer filter.

One neighbor has a series of four water filters and he says that their cistern still fills up with dirty water. The only reason we haven't removed the filter completely is that we can use it to turn off the water to the house and pump the dirty water onto the lawn, IF we know in advance that the water has been turned off. The problem is that usually we find out only after turning on an inside faucet which sucks the dirty water into the entire household system.

Blah, blah, blah. Enough talking. It's time to get to work. Whaaahh!

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