Ten in the morning at the parkdale Intercultural Association on Queen and the room is full. An affable gentleman named Mark Cooper has been invited to speak by the newcomer settlement coordinator. He's here to talk about water. "I work for all of you. I work for the city of Toronto." "Is everybody new to Canada?' he asks the 25 or 30 attendees. He receives a unanimous affirmative. "Where you used to live, was it safe to drink the water?" Only three people answer yes.
One is from Iran, another from Ethiopia and the third is from a northeastern province in China with which Cooper is familiar. "How many feel safe drinking the tap water in Toronto?" Only one hand is raised, and it's mine.
"Do you boil the water? Drink bottled water?" The words "boiling" and "bottled" are repeated around the room, confirming the importance of this visit. He's here to impart the message that our tap water is safe to drink.
He contrasts the lake water at his cottage, which he must boil, with treated Toronto water that has had zero bacteria since 1920. Boiling Toronto water actually lowers its quality by removing calcium. The one part per million chlorine in city water disappears if it sits for an hour at room temperature. The lowest-quality water we drink comes in bottles; major water companies often just sell tap water from somewhere else, he says. Testing of bottled spring water is sporadic and unreliable.
A running hose uses 1,000 litres an hour. If I try to save on flushes in a public washroom, the next woman invariably flushes before she uses the toilet and again after. That's 10-13 litres of water per flush with the standard toilet. The couple of times I've attempted to explain this to one of the gals - women, my people - I've been treated to a barrage of hostile profanity (not the friendly kind) that proves chicks can be just as pigheaded and piggy as any guy. Way to go! Don't get me started on the metres of paper towels they waste.
One video Cooper shows reveals that each of us goes through 250 litres of water a day for personal use, and as much again is expended on our behalf by industry. I once lived in an apartment where the daily allotment was one 5-litre bucket of undrinkable water. I got used to it. In Toronto I reuse bathwater to wash clothes and am aided in water conservation by a lack of adequate pressure and plumbing.
When I see leaky faucets go unfixed with precious drinking water running away down the drain, I want to call a fink hotline. The waste of water is an obscene luxury in which only a population spoiled by easy access and excess can indulge.
Cooper's second video shows the R.C. Harris filtration plant at the foot of Victoria Park, where chemists test the water and take readings every four hours. Cooper assures us that hot tap water is just as safe to drink as cold, but recommends cold for cooking, saying the oxygen in it improves the taste of tea, for instance.
I am so glad Cooper confirms my steadfast belief in the safety of our water supply, not to mention my aversion to those plastic water-filtering jugs found in too many homes. Those who continue to buy bottled water are contributing to the encroaching privatization of a resource we all need.
Yeah, I know all the nasty chemicals environmentalists say our drinking water is laced with. Still, I drink my aqua straight up.