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Lady Justice: Well don’t run dry

Donna Purcell dives into water supply issues

Calgary, my second home (Central Alberta comes first), has suffered a catastrophic water main break threatening 60 per cent of the water supply to 1.4 million people. Three to five weeks is predicted to fix the pipes. We seem to receive more reminders of the fragility of our human existence these days, or maybe our existence actually is more precarious. Nonetheless, the water shortage reminds me of my youth.


My earliest recollections are of home in Roxton Pond, Quebec, a beautiful lake town (Sylvan Lake reminds me of this home, where I have established my first “rural” office). Under language laws, the Québécois government forcefully changed the name to Sainte-Prudentienne for a period (Sylvan Lake formerly being Snake Lake, early settlers were French from Quebec after all, small world)? 


We lived two blocks from my maternal grandparents. We moved when I was about three to the big city of Granby, comparable to a move from Sylvan Lake to Red Deer. Our grandparents’ home remained our second home, a home of stability even after my parents divorced and we moved an hour away to Montreal, until we immigrated west for new opportunity (becoming “less than” due to our outlawed language).


My grandparents’ water came from a well. Measuring the water table with a stick (similar to checking the oil in your vehicle) and ensuring the well did not run dry was a constant responsibility. We had to undertake what we called a “sink wash” when it was low, and for regular conservation. Daily baths (there was no shower) were a luxury, although a sink wash to a kid is just fine, baths being annoyances. I recall as I got older (and taller) the added luxury of lifting each foot into the sink to wash and not having to balance on the side of the tub to access the bath tap (or just not washing them). Hair day meant lying on the iron board lined up with the kitchen sink, salon style. 


For bath day, we did not each get a fresh tub of water for our turns, and the depth was - not much. 


There was no constant running of the water while brushing your teeth. My own children retrained me on that as our wasteful habits have come under modern day environmental scrutiny. “Turn off the tap” moved from my grandma Helena’s refrain to my daughter Helena’s (and Vanessa’s) refrain. Bookend reminders of how lucky/wasteful my generation truly was. 


When the water was really low, we could walk to the lake and take a luxurious lake bath in the evenings before it was dark. I have no idea if using bar soap in the lake was environmental, I am guessing not. It was an adventure, we did not even think these trips were inconveniences. Life was slower.


In the fall, when the lake itself got low, no lake bath, but we who were not strong swimmers could now walk to Devil’s Island to see the famous imprint of his bottom on the rock where he had sat, proving he had been there. Speaking of the devil himself, have you ever noticed that there is no debate over his gender? Guys, you can keep him. Just as some husbands let the wives keep all the housework regardless of their day jobs.


There were rain barrels for catching the rain flowing off the roof to water the plants in the garden. You could bucket wash the car, no hoses needed. I don’t think bottled water was invented yet but doubt those save water at the source anyhow, especially when it comes to making the plastic bottles and transporting them. 


As it is for global pandemics, it is interesting to watch how each citizen adapts, perhaps now predictable from recent experience. Although I am not crazy about being inconveniently asked to turn off a tap, I know I will sink wash and adapt and remember how lucky I am to live in a country where I don’t have to walk 50 miles with water in a container on my head under a burning sun to retrieve clean water for my family. Glass half full. It is all relative, and with reasonable sacrifice we can all make it work, Stampede and all. Let’s not let the well run dry.


Donna Purcell, K.C., (aka Lady Justice) is a Central Alberta lawyer and Chief Innovation Officer with Donna Purcell QC Law. If you have legal questions, contact