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Jessie Veeder, Published November 03 2012

Coming Home: Rural water brings big changes

When you live well outside the city limits there are several modern conveniences that farming and ranching families sacrifice. Chinese food delivery, a quick trip to the movie theater and a dirt-free vehicle are a few.

I’m happy to say that today clean drinking water isn’t one of them.

Last week this ranch, with its rugged barns, old corrals and well lived-in houses, was officially hooked into a rural water system that delivers fresh and safe drinking water to residents living along gravel roads and miles away from the nearest city sidewalk.

It’s a monumental event for rural residents who have depended on wells and springs to supply their families and farms with water for laundry, livestock, noodle cooking and baby feeding for years.

Out here, among the gumbo hills that freeze solid in the winter and dry up in the summer, the availability of a reliable water source is the one non-negotiable variable when it comes to a decision made about the location of a house, a barn and the livestock pens.

Unlike my parents and those who staked claim to this land before them, when my husband and I determined the site for our new home last winter we had the option of signing up for rural water. So we made a deposit and waited patiently as the system was put into place, a project that started with a vision and took more than three years to come to fruition.

My husband and I moved into our new house three months ago, and for three months my dearly beloved has been filling a giant tank in the back of his pickup with water in town, hauling it 40 miles down bumpy roads and hooking it up to the house so we can take a shower, clean our dishes and fill the dog dish.

Without the rural water option we couldn’t have built our house under my favorite hill tucked back in the oak trees – the same spot where my father lived until he was 8 years old when his family lost a battle with a bad well and were forced to move his childhood house over the hill near a spring.

My dad recalls how disappointed he was at the thought of abandoning his little oak grove to the treeless farmyard, so much so that the boy took to the hills with a bucket and a shovel and proceeded to transplant a series of native trees from the coulees to his new yard in an attempt to re-create his preferred surroundings.

As a child I would take off my shoes so I could walk in the water, following the creek as it flowed through the most secret places. I never questioned what was here first – the water or the trees. I knew that if I were an oak I would take root next to the creek.

I suppose trees aren’t much different from people in that respect, only I don’t imagine trees have much to do with the politics involved in such a precious natural resource. Humans make it complicated. And the road to come up with a way to pipe and manage the water that is now flowing out of the faucets and into my neighbors’ kitchen sinks hasn’t been without its complications.

But when I fill our coffeepot, it means something entirely different to me.

It means my mom will no longer have to wash her whites in town. It means a helpful voice on the end of the line for my dad or my husband if we should wake to find our faucet dry. It means a monumental occasion and a long-awaited change to our quality of life that will never be taken for granted.

And it means that we will never have to experience what it’s like to move to the water, because today the water comes to us.

Jessie Veeder is a musician and writer living with her husband on a ranch near Watford City, N.D. Readers can reach her at jessieveeder@gmail.com.