Westfield, Mountainside, Berkeley Heights, Scotch Plains, Fanwood, Union Cty, NJ Newspaper
"Life Without Water, According To The Rules"
by Horace Corbin of The Westfield Leader newspaper

   Saturday morning in the office, I learned of the water supply crisis and of the details to be requested of all 500,000 citizens in our area for voluntary rationing. They called it an appeal to conserve. It wasnít official yet, but Gail and I decided to give it a try. Weíre wilderness campers at times, so how different could it be? She went to the store that afternoon to buy bottled water, and I stayed in the office to dig into the story.

   I really wanted to go play golf with my pals at Canoe Brook CC, but oh what the h...

   Gail went to one of those mega-discount warehouse price stores. She encountered a frenzy of shoppers diving into the cartons of water on the floor. She wisely retreated and went to another store. There, the word wasnít out yet, and she obtained her supply under civil conditions. I later found out she bought 48 gallon containers of water plus several cases of the personal size. Good thing too, for the next day the local supermarkets were sold out.

   The more I learned about the crisis that Saturday afternoon, the more hooked I became. I had another problem too. Iím a Professional Engineer in New Jersey with expertise in water and wastewater systems. I remember taking an oath to protect the public safety. It became an unholy curse to be Publisher of this newspaper along with being an engineer during this terrible convergence of events.

   The President of the water company returned my call early Saturday afternoon. I told him I was an engineer so he gave me some real information rather than dumbing down to the press. Yikes, there is a real serious problem here, and this guy is shook. Heís trying to make all the right moves, but heís really frustrated about getting media coverage and the correct message to the public - "drastically reduce water consumption"! There are many worse things going on right now in New Jersey. Hundreds of people have had their homes and businesses destroyed by the flood of Floyd. They are left with nothing.

   So what does the water company want 500,000 people to do? They say - Donít take showers, donít wash your clothes, donít wash your dishes, flush your house toilet only once per day. Forget about using the water for anything else. Of course boil the water for 3 minutes if you plan to consume it. On toilets a few years back during New York Cityís water crisis, didnít Mayor Koch say "if itís brown, flush it down - if itís yellow, let it mellow"?

   Well, he wants media coverage does he? Pete Billson, my fellow computer geek walked in. For three years, weíve been building our internet system and emergency email list - Linux, of course. Fortunately, we have a good inventory of press and government officials on our list - plus hundreds on our minder system. Thanks to all of you, by the end of the day Saturday, the water company president had all the media attention he could handle.

   I have to admit, I flushed the toilet twice already today.

   It was late Saturday night, but we were able to get something up on the net. I badgered local officials enough that night to have an emergency meeting called about the situation at one of their homes. The Mayor was out of town. Weíll, Iíve been called an alarmist before. One of them knew exactly what I was talking about and really wanted to do something. Forget about the local TV channel, itís the weekend and itís controlled by the school system.

   Gail and I awake Sunday. She decides to visit her mother in Pennsylvania to take a shower. I decide to rough it and get back to the office. By FAX, I see the water company has scheduled a major news conference for 2 p.m. at the failed water plant in Bound Brook. The water company Internet site has been done since the flood and they have no email capability - bummer. Great, plant inspection tours will be given too. By this time, our computers and email systems are humming. Pete and I get more on the net.

   We get to the plant site at 2. Helicopters and TV cameras abound. Everyoneís focusing on the words of the water company President. He didnít do too bad of a job. He couldnít say how long it would take to make the repairs. To me as an engineer, I see the real story being the flat bed trucks in the background leaving the plant with damaged equipment and motors. We tour the plant. Itís a mess. We hustle back to our Scotch Plains office and initiate our automatic fax messaging to local businesses. Iím starting to smell ripe.

   I crash and Gail gets back sometime late from Pennsylvania. Perhaps motivated by my bouquet, Gail has boiled a pot of water for my sponge bath. It was great. Iím not going to my engineering office today - letís see this newspaper thing through. Itís now 8 p.m. where did the day go?

   I accidentally flushed the toilet illegally.

   At three p.m., I remembered that I didnít brush my teeth yet. Thank goodness, itís Yom Kippur. The schools are closed. I grabbed my stash of tooth paste kept in the office. My teeth are swashed with paste from my finger. Oops, the phone rings again. I scurry to rinse out my mouth to answer the call. It was someone from Massachusetts telling me his mother in Plainfield is out of water.

   Dang, I rinsed my mouth out with tap water.

   Well, the town officials are having some kind of meeting tonight - one of the items on the end of the agenda is the water problem - they want to make sure that everyone in town boils their water. I donít get it. The problem is an issue of the urgent need not to use the water. A council friend of mine calls. They are now getting calls from the public that our water supply is to be shut off for three days. So, people are filling up their bath tubs - a self fulfilling prophesy. Now, where did this come from? Iíve done such a bad job that the point is missed. Government has their heads up their in the sand.

   Iím going home to take a shower.

The Westfield Leader - POBox 250, 50 Elm St., Westfield, NJ 07091, 908 232-4407; fax 908 232-0473
The Times - PO Box 368, 1906 Bartle Ave, Scotch Plains, NJ 07076, 908 322-4155
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