Eight years ago, I stopped drinking Brandon tap water.
I was born and raised in this city, and with the exception of a couple of years spent on the road with a band, during which I’d still be back home every few weeks, I’ve never lived anywhere else.
I grew up in a house on the 300-block of Second Street, which was the best of places to grow up, except for the recent discovery of lead pipes in many homes in the area, including the one in which I spent the first 25 years of my life. That revelation was a bit disquieting, but really, I don’t think it’s germane to my story.
This tale of woe actually began in 2002, when I started having terrible stomach aches. I went to my doctor, who could find nothing wrong. She sent me to a specialist, who, after performing an ERCP, a procedure that involves a tiny, flexible camera being inserted through the mouth down into the stomach so the physician can have a good look around, and a colonoscopy (opposite end of the body, otherwise essentially the same thing — a peek inside one’s colon), could find nothing wrong, and diagnosed irritable bowel syndrome.
It was a relief to have something to call whatever had been plaguing me, although as my cousin, who also suffers from the same affliction, said, "I think they call it IBS when they don’t have a hot clue what the heck it is." And I’m tempted to agree with his wry assessment.
Anyway, having the problem diagnosed still didn’t provide me with any answers, nor did the cramping and aching abate. At all. Granted, I was under a TON of stress at work, which I was confident was contributing to the problem, but nothing seemed to help, even during summer holidays.
But as mentioned, the aching and cramping continued, pretty much unabated. Until, that is, my husband retired in 2005, and for his retirement present, I gave him a week of sailing lessons at the Pelican Yacht Club in Ninette. (I took the lessons, too, and my husband became an adept sailor, while I became even more adept at staying securely on shore drinking wine and reading.) We’d decided to make a mini-holiday of the lessons, however, and rented a cabin on Balmy Beach for the week.
Since the water at Ninette isn’t potable, we took up a few pallets of bottled water for the week. We arrived Saturday, and the lessons began Monday. I thought I was starting to relax, because by Monday, my stomach cramps, which had eased a bit over the weekend, disappeared almost completely. By Tuesday, they were gone, and by Wednesday, I was feeling better than I had in many years.
"Huh!" I thought. "This sailing thing must agree with me!"
That turned out not to be true, but something else WAS agreeing with me, as you’ll see in a moment.
Late Wednesday afternoon, I had to come back to Brandon for a hair appointment (when you have to book those things months in advance, you drive 45 minutes back into town to keep them). So I went to my appointment, then went to my house to check on things and take in the mail before heading back out to the lake. I was thirsty, though, so I grabbed a big glass and filled it with some cold water from the tap.
I wasn’t 20 minutes on the road before I started feeling the same old cramps and stomach upset I’d become so familiar with over the preceding three years. I spent most of Wednesday evening in relative agony, but didn’t feel too dreadful the next day. And by Thursday evening, I felt fine again.
Ditto for Friday, when we finished our lessons and each received a certificate saying we’d successfully completed White Sail One. (I think my teacher was just being kind. A sailor I was not.) Anyway, we packed up the stuff at the cabin and headed for home.
Once we arrived, we unloaded the car, and I grabbed another glass of water. And — you guessed it — the cramps and the stomach aches returned 20 minutes later.
This was too much coincidence for me. The two proximal Brandon-tap-water incidents that caused me grief, compared to the drinking of bottled water that resulted in no problems whatsoever, seemed to indicate that the tap water might be the source of my problems.
I haven’t drunk local tap water since that day. I made the switch to bottled water and my stomach problems went away — completely.
Now this is by no means intended to embarrass or criticize the city of Brandon. I know we have a lousy source of raw water and the people at the water treatment plant do their level best with what they have to work with. But I AM perplexed. I’d been consuming local water my whole life. And suddenly, I couldn’t. I could still drink tap water in places like Victoria, Halifax, Winnipeg, and even in Jamaica without issue. But in my home town, what came from the tap made me feel sick.
I’ve stopped drinking anything but bottled water anywhere now, just to be certain. And I have a particular issue with the assumption that we SHOULD be drinking tap water to save the environment from unnecessary plastic bottles. At places like Brandon City Hall or Brandon University, bottled water is not for sale. And believe me, I’d LIKE to be saving the money I spend on bottled water by drinking from the tap. But I simply can’t. So I really resent the presumption on the parts of the aforementioned entities that everyone can and should drink tap water.
I'm convinced, too, that the recent revisiting of the over-the-provincial-safe-limit of Trihalomethanes (THMs) in our water supply has nothing to do with my problem. I AM concerned, however, about the fact that it's supposed to be safe for us to drink for ‘about’ 70 years. Many of us would like to have a life expectancy much greater than that. And since high levels of THMs can cause cancer in some individuals, this is a situation that's not to be ignored. But that diverges from my initial point.
Why does the Brandon water supply make me feel ill? I’ve tried a couple of times over the years to drink it again, but even half-a-glass and I’m back to cramps and nausea. I’ve got an expert’s research to share with you in two weeks’ time, and it’s disturbing to say the least. So perhaps that slogan, "Conserve water — drink wine" isn’t such bad advice after all.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition March 8, 2014