A few years ago, I volunteered at a nature reserve on the island of San Cristobal in the Galápagos. As a biologist, visiting the Galápagos Islands had been a lifelong dream. I couldn’t wait to get to the reserve and do my part to protect this precious ecosystem and experience the amazing diversity of wildlife.
This volunteer experience was marred by many unfortunate, and completely avoidable, problems. I’ll write about them in another post eventually. One of the biggest issues the volunteers faced was having access to clean drinking water.
Upon arriving at the reserve, which was located far away from any town or store, I found a disturbing sight. I went into the kitchen to refill my water bottle and was told to get water from a large vat that had “sabanas sucias” written on the side. Dirty sheets. Our drinking water was being housed in a vat that obviously once contained dirty bed sheets. Hopefully this vat was thoroughly cleaned prior to being filled with our drinking water but based on how things were done at this reserve, it was probably wishful thinking.
The vat had a basic water hose hung over the edge. I asked where the water came from and they told me it came from a near by river. I asked what they did to clean the water, which was darkish brown and had little sticks and other debris, since there was no filtration system.
The reserve manager explained that they use three drops of bleach each time they refill the vat to clean the drinking water. I didn’t want to drink bleach at all but three drops hardly seemed adequate to clean a vat that was several feet high and too big for me to get my arms around.
All of the volunteers were uneasy about drinking the water. We tried to make tea whenever possible, which was also rough considering how hot and humid it was. Everyone began to have digestive issues, especially me as I have Crohn’s disease. To be honest, it might not have even been the water. The reserve cook was an incredibly unhygienic woman who never washed her and did not seem to understand what cross-contamination was.
I was there during the rainy season and everyday was a torrential downpour for several hours. Clean drinking water could have easily been collected. I asked why they didn’t collect the rainwater and I never really got an answer. They seemed annoyed that I kept asking questions about their environmental and sustainability practices, especially when I brought up that they could be growing their own produce on the sprawling reserve instead of buying food from the ships coming from the mainland.
I was supposed to stay at the reserve for 3 weeks but left early due to mounting health problems and frustration with a nature reserve not actually practicing sustainability and conservation.
While I didn’t truly experience a day without water, this was the closest I have been to having to worry about whether I’ll have clean drinking water from day to day. It really put into perspective how fortunate most of us are. The majority of us don’t put any thought into where our water comes from. We just turn on the faucet and trust that clean water will continue to flow.
Today, pause and be grateful that you have easy access to clean drinking water. Reflect on your water habits and see where you can do your part to reduce the waste of our most precious resource. Maybe even try to live one day without water. Would you survive?