Drinking Water in NYC
The (Performative) Art Of Toxicity and Purity
This weekend I took advantage of the unusually warm weather and trekked up to Bushwick to check out Site Fest–a two day festival featuring all kinds of local performance art. As I was making my way around the semi-reclaimed (and quickly gentrifying) landscape of warehouses industrial lofts, a woman and a man approached me. They donned uniforms and blue rubber gloves and offered me two small vials of water. One was a sample of Gowanus Canal and the other was from Newtown Creek. The label on each described some of the chemicals present in each sample. The uniformed individuals were initially short on explanation but directed me to the project’s website. Here, evidence of the water’s source was provided along with instructions on how to consume it.
This brief encounter got me thinking. First, my mind turned to the environmental devastation at Newtown Creek and the Gowanus Canal. If you aren’t familiar with these histories, check them out. Especially if you live or spend time in Brooklyn. After being prompted to consume this toxic water, my thoughts turned to water consumption in NYC. I began to think about how the drinking of both tap and bottled water involves a disconnect with these super-polluted bodies. This is a disconnect which seems both physical and psychological. On the one hand, our health depends upon physical distance from the toxins and we recoil from the thought of them touching our skin. But on the other hand, don’t our consumption habits (bottled water included) create this sort of industrial pollution? And isn’t our consumption predicated on an avoidance (willful or otherwise) of this connection?
If you’re like me and enjoy thinking about these sorts of questions, check out this water footprint calculator and read some of the facts and figures that go along with it. This is a thought provoking and critical resource, even for tap-drinking New Yorkers who are rightfully proud of the quality of the cities water supply. Also, keep an eye out for this brand-new, locally-oriented, bottled water. I’m more than willing to admit that this young entrepreneur deserves credit for his creativity and manifesto. However, the success of his product (plain old tap water) only increases my sense that something is seriously amiss with bottled water drinkers (including myself on occasion!) in New York and beyond.