Sunday, March 25, 2012

A day without water

It wasn't the first time that no water came out when I turned on the tap. So I wasn't too worried when it happened again one night. Probably someone, working on something, turned off the lever at the meter, in front of the house, and forgot to turn it on again. I'd get by until morning when I would be able to flip it back on, and check to see the dial spin and the numbers tick over on the display.

But the lever at the street wasn't shut off, and the dial didn't turn when I opened and closed it a few more times.

It was tinaco time.

When something's wrong with the water the usual thing is to climb up on the roof and check the water tank, or tinaco. Everybody has one. The city water is pressure-fed to the tinaco, and from there it is gravity-fed into the house. That's one reason why the water pressure from taps in Mexico isn't always so great, unless it gets a boost from a pressurized system and pump.

Of course I didn't think about the tinaco too much before now.

Dragged the ladder out of the closet, leaned it up against the roof, climbed up, dragged the ladder onto the roof, carried it over and leaned it against the tinaco, which at our house, is on a concrete stand 1.5 meters high. That's so water will flow with sufficient pressure into our nearby solar water heater. At the top of the ladder you twist off the lid of the tinaco and yes, there's nothing in there you'd want to come out of your taps. There's a lot of sediment in the couple of inches of water on the bottom, and a dead gecko. Good thing we don't actually drink this stuff.

Several helpful people will go through the same exercise through the day, and all of them know more about tinacos than me. They'll check the float valve that controls the shut-off when it's full, and the pvc pipes that lead from meter to tinaco. A few theories will emerge: float valve might need replacement; sarro buildup in the pipes,  the seasonal reduction in water pressure as heat, and consumption, rises. The municipal water company sends four workers to check it out, and they tell me the tinaco has to be lowered from its perch, or else I will need a second tinaco, or a cistern, and a pump to get the water up into the main one. At least I'm pretty sure that's the gist of it.

At the end of the day I still have no water. I am dirty and tired from climbing ladders and standing in the sun. I'm in a strange kind of limbo, a little uncertain about who to call to deal with a problem that is surprisingly difficult to conclusively pinpoint. I put out a couple of requests, and wait, and feel increasingly sorry for myself.

Times like this can be terribly discouraging, when you've been thinking you can get along okay in another country and another language, putting down roots and making a home for our eventual dotage. It feels like punishment for all my bravado; a big cosmic kick in the ass.

Tomorrow will be better. I thought of a way to get water from the street-front tap into the tinaco by hooking them up with the garden hose, after a cleaning, of course. So if it works, we'll have water, even if we don't have a solution yet.

Update: Overnight, the tank quietly refilled. In the end it looks like someone might have forgotten to turn off the hose while watering the plants the day before. I fished out the dead gecko. There hasn't been any further problem but we'll see about getting that cistern and pump at some point in the future.


  1. The sense of mystery is unsettling, isn't it? No, it doesn't work. No, no one can say why - or at least no two people can offer the same reason. No one seems particularly alarmed. And then it works again, through divine intervention, apparently. Though I supposed the Canadian solution would have been more unsettling - a spectacular plumber's bill, new tank and pipes, all for a problem that would have fixed itself. At leas for a while. Too bad about the gecko though. Though better than the jellied squirrel Jody found in their groundwater source in Kamloops long ago.

  2. That's the great thing about having a pool; plenty of water for toilet flushing and basic washing up.
    We always keep extra garafons of potable water around, and several empty cubetas for hauling. This also happens to be our hurricane preparedness strategy.

  3. I'm so glad you wrote about this. North of the Border, we take for granted that we have water 99.99% of the time. In Merida, we get to learn how important water really is to us by occasionally having a little "Water Crisis" of our very own. And then just imagine how it is in the pueblitos where water is still raised from wells in buckets.

    The cistern and pump is a good solution for anyone having more than one story. Fluctuating city water pressure often won't go that high on it's own. And, sometimes, it won't go to the roof of one story, either. It's a safety supply of your own in addition to the tinaco.

    Having a pool to help you flush seems to solve the most crucial part of a water crisis.

    Glad it all worked out in the end!

  4. Jellied squirrel! Paul, I'm glad the creature in the tank wasn't that big, but that's the right word for its condition.

    Debi, that future pool is definitely looking more and more practical.

    And, YucatanMan, our water surprises continue - yesterday, for the first time, no hot water from our solar heater! Don't yet know why.

  5. Four municipal workers, and not one of them explored the garden hose spigot? Hmmm.