The Magazine

Water Wonks

Michelle Obama’s new cause.

Oct 7, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 05 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
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Of course, sometimes the stuff in the container is just plain old water, drawn from the same reservoirs that supply the taps of people too shabby and unenlightened to buy their water at Whole Foods. And then, there are those who are concerned for the environment, which they believe is threatened by bottled water (and just about everything else, it sometimes seems) since it must be transported and this requires the burning of fossil fuels. And, by definition, it must be .  .  . well, bottled. Those containers are plastic and they are not always recycled and, thus, end up in landfills.

So at some campuses, bottled water is no longer sold at the usual outlets. But there are refilling stations where students, who carry their own water bottles, can replenish in order that they may “Drink Up” and do better in class since, as the first lady says,

When we’re properly hydrated our bodies perform better than when we’re even just a little bit dehydrated. Water gives us the focus we need in our school and in our work. .  .  . It can even help reduce headaches and fatigue.

The evidence for claims like this may be thin to nonexistent, but this bothers only a few soreheads who have a fetish for facts. So .  .  . “Drink Up.”

There was a time, of course, when water was not so abundantly and diversely available and we did not have the wealth or leisure to turn out celebrities whose job it was to encourage people to “Drink Up.” Water was something you needed to kill the thirst and stay alive. But drinking the wrong kind of water was worse than a faux pas. It could be lethal. Still is, all over the world. People had to learn how to find water and make it safe. It took some doing and some brains.

It can make you thirsty just imagining the lives of seafaring men during the days of sail. They left with water in barrels that would be replenished only by rainwater until they made shore. On long voyages green things and swimming things appeared in the casks. And, if the winds were not fair, water would be rationed and the crewmen would get by on a cup or two a day of this vile stuff and be glad for it.

I learned, some years back, of a solution to one of these problems. I was in the Okefenokee Swamp, where the water is all stained dark from vast amounts of rotting vegetation. This makes it acidic. Someone told me how the sailing men would go far up the St. Mary’s River, which drains the swamp, in order to fill their casks with this dark, acidic water because nothing would live or grow in it while they were at sea.

Ah, swamp water. The stuff of life. You wonder why they don’t bottle it and sell it in earthenware jugs with alligators and cattails on the label at boutiques everywhere.

Just not cool, I suppose. 

Geoffrey Norman, a writer in Vermont, is a frequent contributor to The Weekly Standard.

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