Keep sewage away from drinking water.
It doesn’t seem like an amazing idea, does it? I expect that you could get agreement on this point from all Canadians. It’s just something we know, you know? Hasn’t it always been this way?
No. It first started being a significant problem about 10,000 years ago when we stopped being primarily hunters/gatherers and began being farmers and dwellers in one fixed spot. Still, it was a long slog until someone had a better idea than getting excreta out of your dwelling by throwing it into the street – or, maybe, until they had the technology to implement that idea. It was 3000 B.C. before latrines were first linked to a city’s sewage system in what is now Pakistan, and it wasn’t until 100 B.C. that a Roman decree *required* city residents to use latrines connected to the sewage system that ran under the streets. Of course, in those pre-modern-medicine days, the incentive to use plumbing wasn’t better health: It was less smell.
However, progress is worse than slow: it’s fickle. After the fall of the Roman Empire, things went backward for quite a while. In mid-18th-century England, all the Brontë sisters died young from, at least in part, lifelong consumption of water contaminated by sewage. Oh, and by a local graveyard. Oh, yuck.
Sadly, the Brontës died just about the time that an English doctor was connecting the dots between cholera outbreaks in London and the adjacency of water pumps and underground sewage pipes with unsealed joints. Then came Louis Pasteur and the germ theory of disease and the rest, as they say, is history.
Except, of course, it isn’t. Unsafe water is still part of current affairs, whether it’s from no sewage systems or from cross-contamination by sewage systems or from industrial pollution or from inadequate treatment systems or from a lack of distribution systems to households. You can browse these graphs on Our World in Data for the global outlook, or you can Google “water advisories in Canada” for something a little closer to home. Check both long-term water advisories (those in place for more than a year with no apparent upper limit) and short-term advisories. And search the Auditor General’s 2021 report for the words “recurring water advisories,” to wit:
For example, 1 community had a short-term advisory for 363 days, followed less than 4 months later by another short-term advisory that lasted for another 325 days. (Paragraph 3.53)
And consider this caveat:
She [the AG] found many cancelled long-term unsafe drinking water advisories have been achieved through temporary measures, which may not last until permanent solutions are in place. – Kenora Miner and News
It makes the Government’s own reporting on lifted long-term advisories seem like a shell game, no?
Anyway, the failures/weaknesses/self-servingness of the modern administrative state notwithstanding, what strikes me about this sad/uplifting/frustrating history is this:
- Wow. We’ve come a long (if slow) way. I hope we can hang onto our progress.
- Yikes. What do I know about how to survive and thrive without the help of a functioning advanced society? How fast would we forget the basics, where we even know them?
- Hmm. What wisdom or knowledge from previous generations and societies have we forgotten or otherwise misplaced? And what things do we do now that future generations will roll their eyes over?