Even more important than food, is water. Water should be the easiest thing in the world to get without money, given its abundance on the planet. As hard as it is for us to imagine, there was once a time when we could cup it in our hands and drink it straight from a river or stream, tasting nothing like what most of us think water tastes like today. In a few remote, uncivilised places it is still possible to drink clean, fresh water. I had the pleasure of being able to do so once when I was living at the top of a mountain in the Mangamuka Forest in the Northlands of New Zealand. We were the first people downstream, and there wasn’t another human being in sight for many miles. The river that flowed next to my tent was so clear that, when it was still, looking at its bed was like looking through a pane of glass. It tasted sublime, unlike any water I had tasted before. The first time I drank from it I realised I had never drunk water before, the way it should be, the way it once was. We bathed in that river, but to ensure it stayed pristine the others who lived there (I was soapless by this stage) would lather themselves up on the bank and fully rinse themselves off before getting back in the water, to ensure that the next people downstream also had a pure water supply. In relation to our land, atmosphere and water, we would do well to think of the next generation as those neighbours who live downstream.
If you live in a rural setting, getting enough water shouldn’t be too difficult if you know how and have the means. However, if you are in the city this is a lot trickier for obvious reasons. In fact, the water issue is one of the reasons why I believe cities to be inherently unsustainable, as the water needs of millions of people living on top of each other can only be met by highly industrialised means, involving processes that are polluting our host and destroying it’s ability to home us. Therefore, complete moneyless living en masse will only happen through land reform and a complete redesign of the way we live.
Nevertheless, there is much you can do in the meantime, and water conservation methods such as those I mention at the start of chapter seven, along with using a compost toilet, will all make important contributions. I will give you a menu of options that I hope are wide enough in scope to cover whatever your particular situation involves. With all the options below, I would get the water tested to make sure it is drinkable.
Water wells and bore holes
A well is created by excavating a piece of land for the purpose of accessing the groundwater of underground aquifers – the depth and radius of the excavation depends on how close to the surface the aquifer lies. Boreholes are similar, but are more like a narrow shaft and require drilling of one form or another. These can be expensive to create in the first instance unless you can tap into a spring that is near the surface. However, once you’ve done it it is there for life, as long as it doesn’t run dry, providing you with a source of clean, non-chlorinated water. To find the right location for either of these, ask around your neighbours to find out if one of them is a water diviner with an unquenchable thirst for dowsing.
Until the last few hundred years, water wells played a hugely important role in hydrating the people of many rural areas, and in some parts of the world this is still very much the norm today. But because so many of us now dwell in urban areas, it’s not something we have to think about anymore. Water comes from a tap. But what would happen if the economic mechanisms that facilitated such centralised and complex water systems ground to a halt, and those chlorinated water taps eventually ran dry?
Wells are still used even in the global West, but most are now created using high technology techniques such as boring, drilling or driving, and involve electrical pumps in their daily use. If you are intending to live off-grid on a piece of land, there is a temptation just to design in an electrically pumped well, as a decent solar panel would power it. Yet again I ask the question – what would happen if the global infrastructure, which manufactures the parts of the leisure batteries and photovoltaics that power your pump, collapsed? You’d be left with a well that had been designed for a level of technology you could no longer support.
It is for this reason, along with the fact that they are packed full of embodied energy and ecological destruction, that I argue against using electrical pumps. Many moneyless options are available, including everything from the age old (and my personal favourite, purely for romantic reasons) bucket to a very clever bicycle powered pump,(187) a device which not only builds resilience in your system but also keeps you fit and saves you a gym subscription as a bonus.
Collecting rainwater is simple and the fact that so few of us bother to do it is yet another example of the wastefulness that comes with money’s marriage to the principles of the economies of scale and division of labour. Rain falls from the sky, hits a surface (usually a roof ), runs into some guttering, down some piping and into a water butt that is raised as high of the ground as is optimum for you. It can get more complex than that depending on what your needs are, but it really doesn’t need to be. It has been happening since the days before Christ and we all really ought to be doing it, as part of a way of living which treats every drop of water with the respect it deserves.
Guttering and butts these days are usually made from plastics, but you can easily find suitable receptacles for the butts on Freecycle or from businesses (such as factories, warehouses and industrial-scale caterers) who regularly discard large storage containers that could fit the job. This is the only time you’ll hear me say this but, in relation to water storage devices, big is beautiful, and I’d recommend finding yourself the biggest one that you can accommodate.
If you have another source of water, such as a well, then rainwater harvesting works as a supplementary source. Because the stored rainwater will often contain contaminants ranging from air pollutants to faeces, it is best not to be considered for potable uses and instead for things like watering the garden (not directly on edibles however), washing your clothes and water cannoning peaceful protesters at demonstrations.
There has been word of water companies contemplating charging people for this as they claim it is ‘their’ water – what on Earth gives them the audacity to claim such a thing, I don’t know, but they are. My answer to them will be always be this: don’t worry, you’ll get your water – it’s just going to see the insides of my bladder on its way to you. All roads lead to home, after all.
Springs, streams and rivers
For most of you who live in towns and cities, this will probably not be a realistic option. Springs are not unlike wells, the main difference being the fact that Nature brings the aquifer to the ground surface all by Herself. One example is a famous spring called Chalice Well in Glastonbury, and I’ve filled up my bottles and containers with its delicious water many times. There is no reason why nearby residents couldn’t go there, or the white spring across from it, and fill their humble receptacles, and I know many who do. The water that comes out is full of iron and has a very unique taste, and is very good for you. With a bit of exploration, you may also find one near where you live, but this is obviously much more likely if you live rurally. Springs can sometimes need filters, such as a sand filter (which has no consumables and requires little maintenance), so testing the water is a wise first step.
Streams and rivers these days are very likely to be polluted, especially in and around towns and cities, or near industrial scale farms in the countryside. Again, test to find out. Regardless, as long as you have the means to boil and purify it, there is no reason why you could not use this water. Of course this isn’t anywhere near as convenient as getting water from the mains, but this latter method is inherently unsustainable and therefore, by its definition, will have to come to an end sometime.