With summer travel in full swing and a lot of post-pandemic revelries to be had, I want to talk about my top tips for traveling as a water professional. You can be a tourist and a water nerd at the same time, which means you’re such a fun person to hang out with 😛
1. Tap water testing
Ok, so first up – you can’t drink the tap water everywhere. But I say this because I am amazed at how many water professionals ask me, “is the water safe to drink here?” when we’re in an American or European city – the answer is YES. Definitely check with the local public health, and even your guidebook or Reddit page will help you answer this question. But you work in water – you should know this – if the water system is treated and it’s fully pressurized 24/7, you’re good to drink.
Tasting the tap water in a new environment is so much fun. Do this before you do other water learnings, and take a guess, based on the flavour, for where that water source is. It’s like wine tasting, but cheaper! You can get an idea of the terroir and the climate from the tap water. If it’s a groundwater source, it’s going to be hard water with more mineral/metal flavours. If it’s surface water, you may not get much flavour, unless it’s from a river with some unique chemical characteristics.
Fun fact: Calgary has two drinking water treatment plants with different sources, the Bow and the Elbow rivers. If you’re in Calgary, taste the water in different parts of the city and see if you can taste the difference.
2. Find out where the water comes from
Once you’ve done the testing, you can figure out if your palette is sophisticated by asking some locals where in fact the water comes from. The internet can help you a lot here too! For extra nerdy points, see if a water treatment plant is near a natural feature you want to see anyways, like a walking path on a river or a hike up in the mountains.
3. Find out where your water (and other stuff that goes with it!) goes to
Less fun than the above – but vitally important for healthy water environments – is wastewater treatment. You could try asking locals this, but I find this is far less known in the general public than where drinking water comes from. This might take more sleuthing. Checking out aerial maps can give away where a wastewater treatment plant is – look for the lagoons along a coast or waterbody. Then click on that item on the map and see what it says. You can also decipher some of where the wastewater goes by figuring out the plumbing problems of where you’re staying. For example, if they don’t let you put toilet paper down the toilet, is it because of bad plumbing, an old septic system, or that the wastewater goes right out into a nearby water body? Good questions to ask!
4. Rainy day? Find out where the water goes!
Follow the rain to see where it leads. Cities all over the world are implementing green stormwater infrastructure, which may look like planted or landscaped features in the boulevard. When it rains, you’ll see stormwater directed to them, and know that those plants are hard at work cleaning up our stormwater.
5.Pick tourism operators that value the natural environment
When I talk to non-water professionals, I find that most people don’t know much about water, wastewater or stormwater, only the basics of the nearest major water body to them. So, that’s true of who you’ll meet in the tourism sector – with the exception of operators that introduce themselves as eco-conscious, environmentally friendly or specifically looking to use funds to preserve natural spaces. The people who work at these companies know a lot about their environment, so they will likely have better answers for you than most about the issues and problems in their own water systems and are a fantastic source of knowledge.
I’m guessing that if you’re nerdy enough to have read this far, you’re likely doing all these things already when you travel —and sometimes your travel companions don’t thank you for it! I just want to let you know that you are in good company, and that it’s a great thing to learn as you go.
Please leave a comment below about an exciting water issue you learned about while on holiday!
Written by Sylvie Spraakman – Treasurer IWA YWP Canada