GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

May 20, 2013

Fishtown Local: Pigs still drink our water; do you?

Fishtown Local
Gordon Baird

---- — Out in the barnyard, spring casts its unforgiving sunlight on a stinking situation: the smell of our water.

Filling up the donkeys’ bucket with city water only makes it more painfully obvious how unsavory the situation has become.

The spray from the hose is aerated and spotlights the foul stench that has become Gloucester water. One can smell the ammonia and chlorine right out of the air as the water cascades into their bucket. It is an acrid, pungent odor that makes the nose wrinkle and the donkey head turn away in disinterest.

Yes, the painful fact is that our donkeys will no longer drink Gloucester water. Remember the old expression, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink? These days, we have to capture rainwater off the barn roof into a rain barrel to keep them interested.

It’s been a good winter for catching water, but in that long dry stretch the week before last, we had only city water to offer. They preferred to stay thirsty and let the bucket stand full.

Back at the house, the dog agrees. She will only touch her water dish if the water comes out of our sink filter system. I keep thinking we can fool her by filling it from the regular tap while she’s not looking, but one sniff is all she needs to walk away. The good news is that our pig still drinks the water with no reservations.

Does that tell you anything?

Here’s an eye-opening test: have you recently had the occasion to soak anything that’s infected? Running a cup of tap water and heating the cup in the microwave to get it hot enough to soak an infected cut on a finger is an even more dramatic smell test.

When unfiltered Gloucester water is piping hot, the stench is even more unsavory. A sniff of steaming city water brings out all the aroma’s of the finest vintage chemicals — that special wince that ammonia brings out, augmented by the more mature memories that chlorine can elicit, reminiscent of the best bleach money can buy, like a freshly cleaned hospital floor.

That’s sure not the smell I want to be drinking on a hot day. You can even smell it in a hot shower, the soothing aroma therapy of ammonia and chlorine at its best to take the bump out of a tough day. Ahhhhhh . . .

When Gloucester found out our water had to be chlor-amoniated, did you think that meant forever? Or were you under the impression that once the problems with the system were solved, we’d be back to the days when Gloucester water didn’t reek of chemicals?

It didn’t always smell this way. Were we living in a fools’ paradise when we drank water that smelled like . . . well, water? Yes, we had the boil water emergency, then not, then boil, then not, then chlorine and ammonia made their appearance along with high water rates. But the high rates didn’t buy water that tasted like water, it kept on tasting like hospital floor.

Why can’t we have water that tastes like water if we once had it? Does this mean we were being poisoned before when the water tasted good? No? Well, if not, then when can we get back to that time when the water didn’t smell so bad and yet won’t be bad for us?

If there was nothing wrong then, why do we have to have it like this now? A sip of water in other towns doesn’t taste like a Dow Chemical Taste Test, why should ours?

How about a Gloucester/Essex/Rockport/Manchester blindfold water taste test-off to see how they compare to the uninformed palate? If our water is so expensive, why can’t it at least be neutral tasting, if not great — at the least not horrible. New York City makes a big show every year of having great tasting tap water — what’s the deal with that? New York? Home of the Yankees and all that grime and crime? Say it ain’t so.

A friend of mine uses two filters on her tap water — two! — and her husband still complains of the taste. And they are not even from New York, they’re from here. She can remember when the water tasted normal. Can you?

This so important and yet we’ve all just gone to sleep and accepted this foul state of affairs as we have accepted the state of so many things here that smell poorly.

Complain. Does our water have to taste like this forever?

Gordon Baird is a local actor and musician, co-founder of Musician magazine, and producer of the community access TV show “Gloucester Chicken Shack.”