Thankful for clean, running water, electricity

John W. Jenson, Ph.D., is Director of the Water & Environmental Research Institute of the Western Pacific, Chief Hydrogeologist and Professor of Environmental Geology at the University of Guam.

With Thanksgiving only a few days away, I’ve been thinking about how good we’ve got it. My parents were members of the Great Generation that grew up during the Great Depression and started their adult lives during World War II.

Dad grew up on a sheep ranch in a mountain valley of Idaho, elevation 6,000 feet, with mountains on both sides rising to 12,000 feet. Cold, snowy winters and short, dry summers. His house had what dad called “outdoor plumbing” — an outhouse in back, with a hand-dug well on the other side, from which they drew water one bucketful at a time, by hand. 

They heated water on a pot-bellied wood stove, and occasionally, in the summertime, heated about 10 gallons — enough to fill a portable bathtub — once. Everyone in the family took their turn, using the same bathwater. His three sisters took their turns first, so the water was cold and soapy by the time it was dad’s turn.

They did their homework next to a kerosene lamp. When he enlisted in the Navy, dad couldn’t believe how great life was in boot camp: hot food (all he could eat) that he didn’t have to cook himself, electric lights, flush toilets and showers … warm showers. And he didn’t have to do any real work, just calisthenics every morning, laps around a track and occasional runs through an obstacle course.

The Navy gave him a whole footlocker full of new clothing, taught him to swim and even fixed his teeth. And when he got on the ship, he had all of those same luxuries and only had to pull watch for four hours at time (instead of all night long, as during lambing season). Navy life was the best!

My generation was the first to grow up taking all those luxuries for granted, but hardly a day went by that I didn’t hear my dad express his gratitude that he didn’t have to carry water into the house, or heat it on the stove and that he could read under a clean electric light instead of a smoky kerosene lamp.

Dad’s generation on Guam also had outdoor plumbing; they relied on roof catchments instead of hand-dug wells but also had to bring water into the house by hand, and only used a few gallons a day. Most all of us now use an average of 70 to 100 gallons a day of hot and cold, disinfected, pressurized water delivered 24/7 right inside our houses.

We live better than the richest royalty of centuries past. Who among our great grandparents, let alone the generations before them, could have imagined that people of our time, even in cities of millions of people or islands surrounded by thousands of miles of ocean would have clean drinking water, let alone electrical power, delivered to every house?

We who live on Guam are probably more mindful of this miracle than our contemporaries in the states, who have never gone without power or water in the aftermath of a big storm, but even we can take these luxuries for granted. We are blessed to have reliable, well-led utilities that deliver these luxuries to us for a fair price year-round.

So, I’m thankful for the men and women of GWA and GPA, and our drillers, regulators and all the other professionals who work together to provide us with clean running water, flush toilets, electric lighting, air conditioning and the good life that my dad never took for granted.

John W. Jenson, Ph.D., is Director of the Water & Environmental Research Institute of the Western Pacific, Chief Hydrogeologist and Professor of Environmental Geology at the University of Guam. 

Original source from the Guam Pacific Daily News. Published on Nov. 20, 2019 at 11:15 a.m. CHST. 

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