2 Kings 2:19: Then the men of the city said to Elisha, “Please notice, the situation of this city is pleasant, as my lord sees; but the water is bad, and the ground barren.”
Life for our pleasant community changed in an instant when it was announced on January 9, 2014, that a chemical had leaked into the Elk River, the water supply for 300,000 plus people. The chemical that was leaked was 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol, or MCHM for short, which is used in the coal refining process. It has a distinct, sweet black licorice smell, which led investigators to find the leak. How fortunate that we had some “bloodhounds” at the Department of Environment Protection who tracked down the source of the smell after neighbors complained. The DEP told the company, Freedom Industries, that they had a leak. Apparently nobody’s nose at the site was working that day! Someone had to come in and tell them they had a leak. Because of the leak, our water was deemed unusable for any purpose other than flushing toilets and fire fighting. A couple of communities within our area were not affected because they had their own small water systems that used a different water source. Even though over the years they may have been pressured to join the large water company that serves most of the area, I am sure they were glad that they had held out and remained independent.
They were fortunate, but the rest of us faced major changes in our routine. My daughter thoughtfully taped signs on the kitchen and bathroom sinks reminding us not to use the water. You don’t realize how much you do out of habit without thinking about it. I am a big hand washer, and there were several times I went to the sink to wash up and was thankful for her reminder sign. While hand sanitizer is nice, I don’t think it is a replacement for soap and water. We had to get bottled water to use for everything from drinking and cooking to washing hands and brushing teeth. One of my best friends lives in one of the unaffected communities, so she told us to come on down and get a shower and do our laundry. While we were there we filled up containers with tap water. What a blessing!
2 Kings 19:20-22: And he said, “Bring me a new bowl, and put salt in it.” So they brought it to him. Then he went out to the source of the water, and cast in the salt there, and said, “Thus says the Lord: ‘I have healed this water; from it there shall be no more death or barrenness.’” So the water remains healed to this day, according to the word of Elisha which he spoke.
About a week later, it was determined that the levels of the chemical had declined below the Centers for Disease Control’s acceptable criteria of 1 part per million. With the acceptable level reached, citizens could begin flushing their pipes to move the contaminated water out of the system one region at a time. The smell of black licorice filled our homes as we ran our hot and cold water taps to send the infected water on its way. As I was flushing our pipes, I thought about the story of Elisha healing the water and I prayed that God would heal our water. Elisha threw salt into the water to heal it. We, as Christians, are salt and we need to bring our saltiness to this situation. We need to pray for God to heal our water and our land.
In 2 Chronicles 7:14 it says: “if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” This water leaked happened to everyone – rich, poor, young, old, all races, all religions. I certainly am not saying that someone’s particular sin caused this water contamination, because the responsibility for the leak rests on the shoulders of Freedom Industries. However, our government and our society have become lax in monitoring and regulating such entities, so we as a community have to take some responsibility also. Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Freedom Industries couldn’t smell its own stench of neglect and irresponsibility until someone alerted them. Sometimes we can’t smell our own stench of sin and it has to be pointed out to us. We need to listen when we are alerted and take corrective, rather than evasive, action. We need to be humble and accepting instead of disdaining toward those who are trying to help us.
None of us had any control over what happened. The only thing we can control is our reaction and response to the crisis. Let’s all pray that the Lord will heal our water. I know it will take some time before we trust man’s report that the water is safe. We are still using bottled water for cooking and drinking. I do believe that in time our water will be healed. We need to trust in God and we need to learn from what we have experienced. So here are a few things I’ve learned from our “water crisis”:
Best of friends and family are there for you, no matter how many years or miles have separated you over time. They love you and care about you. They let you shower at their house and do laundry. You might get a check in the mail with a note letting you know that they are praying for you and wanted to do something to help. They will offer to drive hundreds of miles to bring you water. You will get phone calls and emails and Facebook messages asking if you are okay and if you need anything. When you get to be older and your parents have already passed on and you don’t see much of your extended family, you forget that there are people other than your spouse or child that love you unconditionally and truly care. I have been moved to tears at times by the outpouring of kindness and love. I am blessed to have a wonderful family, extended family, church family and friends.
Even though people went a little crazy in the first hours of the crisis -- and by crazy I mean hoard-buying bottled water and running out of stores without even paying – once things settled down, people started acting like considerate human beings. Neighbors checked on neighbors, especially those who were elderly or sick and couldn’t get out for supplies. Water distribution sites were set up so that people could get free bottled water or bring containers for bulk fill. The surrounding communities not affected by the chemical leak opened up their water supply for people to fill containers at no cost. People volunteered to work at the distributions sites. I was especially proud to see all the kids who helped out by volunteering at sites and some that set up recycling centers for bottles. Everyone had a story about a friend or family member outside our red zones that let them take showers and do laundry at their homes. It was nice to see people helping one another.
Bottled water is an added expense to the grocery budget, but at least it is fairly cheap compared to other items. When I think about our previous “crisis”, which was the 2012 derecho that left us without electricity for nearly 2 weeks, I think about the money we spent on gasoline to keep our generator running. That was way more expensive that buying water.
We take a lot of things in this life for granted. Our water supply was certainly one of them. We can’t take anything for granted anymore. I have learned that the only thing I can always rely on is the grace of God, and I sure don’t want to take Him for granted! I am thankful for the “living waters” that nourish my soul.