Mar 12, 2017 I Brett Tingley

The Week in Strange Colored Water Around the World

If recent political events have shown anything, it’s that most people can put up with a lot of strangeness in their lives. However, if there's one area of daily life in which people won't tolerate any funny business, it's their water. Despite our best attempts to divorce the modern human experience from the realities of the natural world to which we belong, we still depend on our planet’s water cycle to sustain not only our own lives, but the lives of every living thing on Earth. Thus, when strange things happen to water supplies, people tend to get a bit uneasy.

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The United Nations estimates 11% of the global population still lacks access to clean, safe drinking water.

Two cases in point this week: green water in Spain and pink water in Canada and Australia. According to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, residents in the town of Onoway near Edmonton in central Alberta became incensed after their tap water turned a neon shade of pink. Naturally, angry and fearful residents took to social media to post pictures and videos of the shocking sight.

Well, at least it beats a sink full of blood.

Luckily for them, the government in the town of Onoway took to Facebook to post an explanation. According to local officials, the bizarre pink hue was the result of a dye used in the testing of water systems:

Yesterday, during normal line flushing and filter backwashing, a valve seems to have stuck open allowing potassium permanganate to get into the sump reservoir. The reservoir was drained, however some of the chemical still made it into the distribution system. While it is alarming to see pink water coming from your taps, potassium permanganate is used in normal treatment processes to help remove iron and manganese and residents were never at risk.

Potassium permanganate has dozens of uses including as a medical antiseptic, a fire starter, a food preservative, and a water treatment additive. Despite the official narrative, some residents are still concerned that their water is unsafe.

Looks fine to me. Nothing to see here, people. Keep shopping and trust what the TV says.

Not to be undone by Canada’s unsettling colored water, a town in Spain woke up to an unexplained and unsettling sight when the Valira River in northeastern Spain turned a pungent shade of bright green this week. Just like in the Canada case, the local government issued a statement assuring residents that despite being terrifying, the green hue was merely the result of a harmless dye used in the routine maintenance of a nearby bottling facility.

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The same bottling facility was linked to a gastroenteritis outbreak last year.

Down under in the upside-down part of the world, a lake in Melbourne, Australia recently turned pink, prompting officials to warn individuals to stay away from the popular attraction in Westlake Park. Parks Victoria officials stated the cause was likely algae on the lake's bottom which bloomed due to abnormally high levels of salt in the lake stemming from a lack of rainfall.

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Melbourne's Westgate Park.

Are these official statements merely a panacea attempting to disguise a more sinister cause? Could these be a publicity stunt designed to highlight the fragility of our water supply? Probably not, but who knows? One thing is for sure: these scares demonstrate the importance of impartial regulatory bodies to oversee and regulate our precious natural resources. The depletion and pollution of food and water sources have been cited as a cause of mass extinction events in the past, so there’s no reason to believe it couldn’t cause another.

Brett Tingley

Brett Tingley is a writer and musician living in the ancient Appalachian mountains.

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