Cambrian: Opinion

Advice from the grossed-out in Cambria’s backcountry: Check your water tanks

The Cambrian’s Mountain Musings columnist’s husband checks their backcountry home’s water tanks.
The Cambrian’s Mountain Musings columnist’s husband checks their backcountry home’s water tanks.

Have you ever walked into your kitchen and smelled something that was, let’s say, off? Something unpleasant, not quite identifiable, but nothing that would make you run screaming from the house?

Recently, there was a slightly noticeable odor in our kitchen that was somewhat reminiscent of dead mouse. To be honest, mice have found their way into our duct work many times, so a dead mouse is always the first thing we look for when the house doesn’t smell just-cleaned fresh.

Over a couple of days, as the smell increased, we searched for the source of the odor in all the usual places, primarily where we had set traps. No mice. I even checked the trash to be sure nothing was simmering in there. Nada. As the days passed, the bad smell seemed to concentrate itself near the kitchen sink.

So, I checked under the sink, poured vinegar down the drain, in case of, what I don’t know, and came up empty. Then one morning, I smelled the same smell in the shower, which is at the other end of the house.


It seemed clear that we were going to have to check our water source. I asked John to go up the hill to check our two water storage tanks as soon as we got home from work, and there it was, or rather, there they were.

Two very dead rodents inside one of our water tanks. These tanks are the source of all of our inside and outside water, which includes, dare I say it out loud, our drinking water. If you find this thought gross, which you’d have to unless you’re an 8-year-old boy, imagine what we were thinking.

Ugh, ugh, ugh, in all caps.

How much of this water had we used for cooking and drinking, washing our dishes and clothes, bathing? Had we had company while this was happening in the dark recesses of our water tanks? We racked our brains. If so, could we ever tell them, or would this be a secret we’d have to carry to our graves?

It was too disgusting to think about for long, so we went into action. After John removed the poor drowned critters and drained all the water from the offending tank, we hit both tanks hard with bleach. I mean hard.

I still haven’t gotten the visual of rodents drowning and decomposing in our water tank out of my mind, but at least we are now purified within an inch of our lives. For over a week, we traded the taste of rodent water for the taste of bleach water while the purification process rid us of the unthinkable.

The taste of bleach was pretty unpleasant, but nothing that was likely to make me shudder or give me nightmares, as that other taste did. Wherever you live, the current trend is to drink more water if you want to be healthy.

Here in Cambria’s backcountry, that means drinking water from a spring or well. Our spring water has always been delicious, but I suddenly feel squeamish about totally trusting that the water traveling from our spring to our house is safe to drink. Following in my sister-in-law’s footsteps, I finally broke down and bought a Britta pitcher for the fridge.

From now on, my lips don’t go near any water that hasn’t gone through the Britta filtration system first. I’ve never been picky about tap water, but breached water tanks have a way of making you reconsider what’s coming out of your faucets with a more discerning eye — and nose. For now, we’re being vigilant and making sure the tops on the water tanks are ratcheted down tight.

However, if you plan to come up here for a visit in the near future, I’d suggest bringing a bottle of your own water with you.

Mountain Musings is special to The Cambrian. Email Marcia Rhoades at
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