Russia, January 21, 1999
I can't stand the sound of running water!
As I sit here typing this the sounding of a leaky faucet rings in my ears. If it ever stopped, the sound of the ever-running toilet would fill the void. In the bathroom, the tub faucet always runs, and the other toilet will turn on and off randomly. This house is not possessed, or unique. I have never seen such water waste as in Moscow. I see sinks stained yellow by the constantly running water in new buildings. At first I though they installed facets to run continuously to keep the pipes from freezing in the winter time, but then I went to work for Price Waterhouse and I saw that there are faucets in this country that do turn off, so now I am stumped.
It is not just faucets that run all the time, but there is a constant water usage here that astounds me. There is an often enforced rule that requires cars to be clean in Moscow, so when it was -30C, I saw people washing their cars. I still haven't figured out how they did that without cracking their windshield with hot water, or coating their car in ice if they used cold water. I watched my host family run the washing machine for one pair of socks once, and they constantly took baths. My landlady encourages us to let the water run at full blast for at least five minutes before we get into the shower!
Now Moscow does have a great water supply in the river that runs through the middle of the city, but there is a cost to treat and transport the water into homes. The larger task is to remove and treat the waste water that comes from the city. I wonder just how good that facility is? When I lived in Florida, the six months of drought every year taught me water conservation, though people did waste water. When I lived in Washington DC, which is on the Potomac River, water was not valued as highly as Florida, but it still had value due to the cost of treatment. Here water must have close to no value for it to be wasted so wantonly.
If they took the energy to fix all the running faucets and toilets in the city alone, the city water usage would probably halve. That would be great news to the water authority in Moscow and the downstream inhabitants of the river.
This is what the Word's Worth at Moscow Times had to say about leaks:
Lexicon for Leaky Taps, Perturbing Plumbing
By Robert Coalson
I sometimes wonder if the drying up of the Arial Sea is riot directly related to the millions of dripping faucets to be found in Russian cities. Perhaps one of the clearest manifestations of that renowned patience of Russians is their tolerance for years of constantly running water in their kitchens and bathrooms. I also suspect that the New Russian fashion of installing little fountains in their villas and apartments is just a way of' evoking childhood memories of leaky faucets).
But it doesn't have to be this way. As in the West, Russia is lull of santekhniki, or plumbers, who are ready at a moment's notice (well, within a few days) and for a reasonable fee (well) to come and end your troubles. So, whether you need to pochinit' rakovinu (fix a sink), ustanovit' unitaz (install a toilet), zamenit' kran (change a faucet) or podkluytichit' stiral'nuyu mashinu (hook up a washing machine), all you have to do is vyzvat' santeknika (call a plumber).
Needless to say, it is wise to dogovorit'aya o tsene zaraneye (to agree on the price beforehand). You may need to ask, tsena vklyuchayet malerialy ili tol'ko rabotu? (does the price include materials or just labor?). The basic problems for which you may need to call a plumber are if your krati ili batareya techyot (Faucet or heating battery leak) or if zasorilsya tualet ili kran ili sliv ((the toilet, sink or drain are backed up).
In my apartment, the usual problem is that clogged pipes lead to stabyi napor vody v krane (weak water pressure, in the tap). The plumbers always want to change my faucet and I always get into a big argument over whether this is necessary. When I mentioned this to a friend, he said this was because the plumbers want to charge me for replacing my faucet and then take my faucet and use it to replace someone else's. As soon as I started telling plumbers that they could replace my faucet if they wanted, but I wouldn't let them have the old one, they started agreeing that I only need to have the pipes cleaned.
Knock on wood, but I have not yet had a real plumbing emergency in Russia. I've never had to call in the middle of the night and desperately cry, "U nas prorvalo trubu v vannoi!" ("A pipe broke in our bathroom!").
But I do have an idea of how long it takes to get help, judging from the amount of water that came through my ceiling when it happened to my neighbors upstairs. In such cases, your neighbor calls the santekhnik, and you call a plotnik (carpenter), but that is another column.
For now, I end with the exhortation to call a plumber it you need one. It might not be too late to save the Arial Sea.