Cleaner drinking water?


I happened to stumble on a couple of separate articles, and before I start my little rant, I think I should begin with some of the details from those pieces since that’s what triggered my thoughts.

First we have an article on the BBC web site ~ A warning, from officials in China, said that approximately one-third of China’s rural population did not have access to safe drinking water. Think about that. Not just lacking safe drinking water… lacking access to safe drinking water. They can’t get to it. So many water sources are polluted that the population simply can’t get to safe drinking water.

Second, an article in the April 2005 issue of Reader’s Digest called “The Good Earth: The planet is greener and cleaner than you think” ~ Gregg Easterbrook wrote the piece I read, which was a really good article looking at how many things… air, water, animal life, the environment in general… are showing significant improvement.

Seems like we have two distinctly opposing viewpoints here… or at least two opposing situations. In China, the water quality is plummeting, and with the article saying 70% of China’s lakes and rivers are polluted, hope for improvement is not easy to find. Yet in Easterbrook’s article, air quality across America is significantly better today and forests are growing and recovering.


Now… my rant…

I don’t have any fancy statistics or research to back up my opinions. All I have is the faucet in my home… well, in my parents’ home actually, because I have a well.

I grew up in Rhode Island. We got our water from the Scituate Reservoir. I am told that when I was a kid… 30 or so years ago… the water I drank there was some of the cleanest you could find.

I never understood what chlorinated water meant until my family went on vacation once (I believe Washington, DC, was the first place I had this… umm… delightful experience). I took the cover off of a glass in our hotel room, walked over to the faucet, took a sip and… yuck!

One of the better articles I found (but can no longer link to, as the original link is not active) included this two-sentence segment: “When the water flows into the plant it is treated with a variety of chemicals. Recent technological improvements ensure that every step in the treatment process is carefully completed.” I may be wrong, but I don’t believe the water I drank in my younger days was treated as much before I drank it as the water I would find when visiting my parents’ house today. Same water source… different taste.

Sure, I don’t have the numbers to prove my theory… that the quality of drinking water is worse today anyplace you look… that Easterbrook’s findings are interesting and I don’t doubt accurate, but I’m not certain they cover everything when it comes to a better environment.

Instead, I look at the results coming from China… and I look at the taste of the water that used to seem so pure and untouched… and it just seems that things aren’t better today. Perhaps that’s a bit simplistic. Perhaps that’s a bit naïve. I don’t think it is.

I know that numbers can be twisted to say and prove just about anything you want them to prove. And I understand that in the United States things aren’t quite the same as they are in other parts of the world. But perception is a powerful force… in part as even Easterbrook suggests by noting that most of the information or reports about the environment isn’t good news… and every so often, perception actually is the reality.

So, while Easterbrook could be right in everything he points out… and that so many areas are showing improvement… I have questions (and questions before we even try to figure out if Easterbrook has some type of biased approach to environmental causes).

Tomorrow night I’m going to walk to the end of my driveway to put out the trash. I’m going to keep one of the bags open so I can pick up coffee cups, fast food wrappers, and other assorted garbage that has been tossed by people from their cars. And if the common man, in their natural environment, isn’t taking a moment or two to keep their corner of the world a bit cleaner… well… how am I supposed to believe that things really are getting better?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

In the early days of the In My Backpack web site, I was trying several different ways to present material.

My journal entries were referred to as “A Momentary Lapse…” for a period of time, which eventually transitioned to “Are you chewing gum?” for a bit. Eventually, after a few restarts, modifications, and relaunches, the Now Playing area took over.

One of occasional segments—appearing perhaps ten times a year or so—was called Random Thoughts, which I described as…

Too long for “A Momentary Lapse…”… Not enough for a full article… Need to get them off my “ideas to work on” list…

This essay was originally created and presented as a Random Thoughts entry. I’m bringing it back as a From the Backpack offering because I’m curious about the content and the effort. But, worth noting, it may still seem a bit incomplete, needing more development, and may or may not have gone through some additional edits and re-writes beyond my usual finds when searching the archives.


If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at