Water, Water, Everywhere – But Not a Drop to Drink

Entrance to the Source de Livron, which provides the area’s drinking water. According to local legend, it was once a dragon’s den.

The joys of living in a rural French commune. We currently have to collect our drinking water daily in bottles from the Syndicat des Eaux (local water board), which for us involves a round trip of about 18 kilometres. The tap water is contaminated with cryptosporidium parasites that cause respiratory and gastrointestinal illness, and may not be safe to drink. Because of the drought? Nope. The opposite.

Last week, the hot, dry weather broke with a violent thunderstorm and torrential rain. The rain continued and we had 104 mm in four days. While it’s not unusual for it to rain heavily during a storm, it is unusual for it to continue for so long at the end of June.

The water problem began last week but I heard about it on Tuesday from a friend. The water board’s strenuous efforts to inform the local people included sticking up a couple of flyers on the village notice board. One can be forgiven for walking past without consulting it, since the notices usually list tediously dull electoral or planning regulations.

To be fair, our commune covers a large area and it would be difficult to inform all the households separately. The Syndicat presumably expected that the news would travel by word of mouth, which it mostly did.

No cheating

The Syndicat is distributing three litres of water per person per day, with double rations on Saturday to last the weekend. When we told the employee that we couldn’t come tomorrow he reluctantly gave us that as well.

They write down your name to make sure you don’t sneakily come back for more a couple of hours later. A friend who was behind us in the queue said they almost refused to give him any yesterday, since they maintained he had already claimed his daily ration. It turned out that it was a different person with a similar name.

Cause and effect

The culprits? (Not the farm in question)

What is the cause of this mishap? Culpability seems to centre on a particular dairy farm, which is on top of the hill above the underground watercourse that feeds our water supply. One explanation is that a slurry pit, or something equally noxious, overflowed during the deluge and got swept into the watercourse. Another is that the cows have been pastured in a field immediately above the stream and their effluent was washed in by the unusually heavy rain. The cynic in me says that this may well have been going on for years, in that case, and was simply exacerbated by the weather.

Whatever the ultimate cause, a solution may not be imminent. We asked the Syndicat employee how long the situation might continue. Further analyses will be carried out on Monday and a mobile ultra-level filtration system will be put in place – but that will take at least a week. However, something tells me we may be making the long daily trek throughout the summer.

Don’t drink well water instead…

In the meantime, the water is apparently safe for cooking provided you boil it for five minutes. You’d be surprised how quickly you get through three litres of water. And this, perhaps, is the salutary lesson to emerge from the situation. Having to be frugal with water makes us realise just how profligate we are with the tap water normally. For many people on the planet, three litres a day would be a luxury.

Anyway, who needs water when we’ve got wine?

P.S. The post title is adapted from Coleridge’s ‘The Ancient Mariner’. The original is, “Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink.”

You might also like:

The Day the Village had no Bread
A Year in the Life of a French Commune
A Grave Issue

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  1. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you that you’ll be back to tap water soon!! Going through this is no doubt interesting, even though it must be very restricting. I’m sure your attitude to tap water will never be the same!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! The latest communiqué from the Mairie says normal service is unlikely to be resumed before 24th July. Sigh. We have guests arriving on the 26th, so I do hope we’re not still on the bottled stuff. But, yes, we see tap water in a new light now!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Tomorrow, I will buy a bottle of Evian water and raise my glass of water as a toast to a speedy resolution to the water problem. How much is Evian water in France–here it is about $3.50 to $4.00 pour un litre.


    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! I don’t know the price of Evian, since we drink a different brand of bottled water. Ours works out at about .50 centimes for a bottle. I’m sure Evian is much cheaper here, since it has to be imported where you are.


      • Maybe it is the import. 3 or 4 years ago, here in New Mexico, the talk of the town was about a French company trying to buy water rights to mine underground water to bottle and sell. What a crazy world!!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Interesting! Drinking our water was ‘interdit’ a couple of weeks ago. The first we knew was finding a six pack of big water bottles on our doorstep with a copy of the ‘arrete’ from the mairie. No one seemed prepared to say what was wrong just not to drink the tap water or use for ‘food preparation’. I asked about boiling it but the response was non committal. I was told results were being waited for. We buy cheap bottled water anyway so it wasn’t too much of a nuisance although we could have collected free bottles from the mairie. After ten days we went to an evening event in our nearest town where the girl from the mairie was volunteering and she told us ‘tous est bien maintenant’. We still don’t know the story behind it but maybe it was a slurry heap too! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • The combination of swelteringly hot weather followed by torrential rain has been bad for the watercourses. The heat encourages the bacteria and the rain sweeps in more unwanted stuff than usual. Glad your situation is back to normal. It’s not clear when ours will be.


    • Thank you – so do we! They did seem rather vague at the water company about how long this might go on. It could be worse – at least we are not without water altogether.


    • Il me semble peu probable que nous y allions tous les jours. C’est un malheur que nous habitons à l’extrémité de la commune. Quand même, nous avons eu besoin de pluie – mais pas toute à la fois!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Unfortunately, we are at the other end of a large commune. I suspect we won’t go every day, anyway. We’ve always drunk bottled water, so we are using what they provide for making tea and coffee, washing fruit and veg and cleaning our teeth! At least we can still use what comes out of the tap for showering, washing clothes, etc., so it’s not as if we are completely without water. There is no clear end to the situation, though.

      Liked by 1 person

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