We’d saved several hundred pounds to buy new tyres for our Land Rover Defender but ended up buying second-hand ones, leaving £200 that could be spent elsewhere.
As we have an unfiltered private water supply, which we know isn’t the best, we thought we’d put the spare cash towards a filtration system.
The money wouldn’t have gone far, except that in Scotland there’s a local government administered grant scheme that provides up to £800 to improve private water supplies.
If we put our money together with the grant there should be enough in the pot to cover the filters we were most likely to need: ultraviolet to kill bugs, an acid neutraliser to stop everything corroding and particulate to stop the head tanks filling with sludge.
However, to get the grant, we have to get a council officer out from our council, Aberdeenshire, to take a water sample and assess our supply system.
An older man came out to do the assessment, proving to be a refreshingly pragmatic countryman.
He approved of our borehole set-up (concrete block box around the pipe head, heavy concrete lid), our 14,000-litre header tank (stainless steel inner, lockable inspection port) and the use of polythene pipe instead of lead or steel.
The officer suggested we dig away a lip of earth that had built up against the blockwork box, but that was it.
All very sensible, and off he went.
Twenty-four hours later, the OH took a panicked call from a different council officer.
“Your water is contaminated with bacteria! It’s unsafe! You shouldn’t be drinking it!”
The OH responded that we knew the supply was dodgy, that’s why we wanted to install filters.
“You need to boil the water before drinking it or using it in food. And you should be careful not to ingest it when showering…”
Yes, the OH replied, we do that and have done for many years. The water supply is dodgy, after all.
“But your water is unsafe!”
The OH sighed. Yes, it is but we take precautions and we’re not sick.
The council officer went through a litany of dangers and precautions before telling the OH the important information, that the full analysis wouldn’t be available for 7-10 days. And that’s the detail we need to have a filtration system specified.
With the phone call out of the way, the OH went and boiled a kettle to make a cup of tea.
It was a different council officer.
“You had your water sampled on Monday?”
Yes, I replied.
“Well, unfortunately, it is contaminated. With bacteria!” she said, rather excitedly. “You shouldn’t be drinking it unless it’s boiled. But you really should look at alternative sources.”
I told her we knew the water was dodgy. After all, that’s why we were applying for a grant for a filtration system.
The officer was non-plussed by my pragmatic attitude.
“You shouldn’t be drinking the water,” she said, “it’s not safe!”
Well, I replied, we’ve been using it for years and we’re still here.
As she was quite flustered by the danger to us, I assured her we would take suitable precautions and get the filters sorted out very quickly.
I’d barely put the phone down when the council officer who came out to inspect the water supply phoned.
He was, thankfully, rather more relaxed about the situation.
“We’ve got the initial bacteriological report back and there is contamination…” he began.
I know, I broke in, I’ve already had two other officers get in touch. I told him about their calls—and their “excitement”.
“Yes, well, I know you know the supply isn’t the best so all we really need to do is confirm it for the paperwork.”
I went off for a cup of tea—made from well-boiled water.
This morning, the postie handed me a letter, clearly marked in red “Aberdeenshire Council—Environmental Health“.
I opened it, thinking it was the paperwork for the grant.
The first piece of paper was blue, with huge print on it that read:
notice about your water supply
“BOIL YOUR WATER”
An accompanying letter said “our investigation has identified that the water is at risk from bacteriological contamination”.
Also in the envelope were council and NHS brochures about the dire danger that we find ourselves in.
As I read it, I drank a nice cup of tea. Boiled, of course.
A little later, while working outside, I head the phone ring.
It was a council officer, phoning to warn me of the “dangerous bacteriological contamination of our water supply”.
I found it hard to stifle a yawn as she went on at length about the problem. While she gave me the lecture, I put the kettle on for another cup of tea then reassured her that once the council had approved the grant we would be doing something about our water supply.
When she’d hung up, I phoned our local water engineers and asked them to send someone out to provide a quote.
A couple of hours later, he was in our dining room, working out where best to put the filters. (They have to go in the dining room as that’s where the water pipe enters the house and where the stopcock is. Don’t ask—I think Mr Dodgy Bodger did the original work.)
I mentioned the council phone calls to the engineer and he laughed.
“I did another quote for a couple this morning. They’d had had letters and phone calls from the council warning of the dire danger they were in from their contaminated water supply.
“They’ve only been drinking it for 18 years, without a problem.”
Job done, he left, promising to get a quote in the post in a few days.
Two minutes after the engineer had gone, the phone rang. It was another council officer.
“Hello, the officer who tested your water supply is away on holidays so I thought I’d just ring to warn you that your water is contaminated.”
Yes, I replied, we’ve already heard from four other officers, including the one who came out, and we’ve had a letter in the post.
“Oh, um, well, we do need to alert you, um, maybe…”
It’s okay, I said, we know the water supply is dodgy, we’ve boiled our water for years and we’ve had it tested now so we can qualify for the grant.
The officer apologised for calling again and got off the phone quickly.
Life’s terrible when you have a dodgy water supply. Still, if we’re all going to die I’d better have another cup of tea first. Boiled, of course.
Seriously, though, I do know that contaminated water has health implications.
But having spent a lot of time camping, hiking, bushwalking, rambling or whatever else you’d like to call it, and having spent many years living in houses with dodgy water supplies, I tend to treat all water as suspect and boil it before consuming it. It’s a habit, not an inconvenience and certainly not a worry.
As I said to the council officers, we’ve managed to get by with our water supply for all these years without a health problem, so why panic simply because it is now officially “bad”?
I’m much better off sitting back, relaxing and enjoying this nice cup of tea. Boiled, of course.