Late is Not Always Better Than Never

It was an interesting weekend here in Downey. We weren't supposed to drink the water. Now over all, this isn't all that unusual, cities occasionally issue warnings like this for contaminations. Most Californians don't drink the water anyway - we'd much rather pay premium prices for water in a plastic bottle. But I digress...

Here's some of the back story. The city of Downey "produces" most of their own water. I laugh every time I read that, but I'm pretty sure there's not a water factory in Downey. The good Lord provided water and Downey pumps it out of the ground at 25 different wells. Downey also has 25 test sites where they continuously test the water. (Anyone wanna bet the 25 test sites are next to the 25 wells?)

Sometime on Thursday, three of the 25 test sites reported higher than allowed levels of bacteria. This happens occasionally here in So Cal (and probably in other major cities too). Usually the city just works with the area affected. But for some reason Downey decided to issue the 'boil your water' release to the entire city. This hit the news outlets Thursday evening and Friday morning. Most Downey residents learned of the order to boil water from the news. Apparently this upset some folks, rightly so in my opinion. So Friday evening the city used their calling system to call all the residents in Downey telling them to boil their water. This was more than 24 hours after the bacteria had been found. At our house, we got two phone calls about an hour apart.

At the time the old saying, "Better late than never" popped into my head as I thought about how late the notice was. Chances were that if I drink tap water, that I would have done so already in the last 24 hours. This was not a big issue for our family. We could easily boil water and we had some bottled water (for my wife - I drink the raw tap water). However, it was kind of unusual to see every restaurant and fast food place in Downey closed all weekend. I bet that hurt some one's pockets.

Late Sunday evening, and by late I mean 10:30 pm, the mayor's recorded voice was on the phone again. This time telling us it was safe to drink the water. Cool. I wondered about a call so late in the evening. Linda and I had just gone to bed so it didn't interrupt us to much, but I'm sure some others go to bed much earlier than that. I remember wondering about two phone calls on Friday evening as I drifted off to sleep. Sure enough, at 11:35 pm the phone rings again with the same message from the mayor. 11:35 at night. I don't want a drink of water at 11:35 pm. I want peace and quiet so I can sleep. Needless to say, my vote will go the other guy running for mayor at the next election.

So, while I'm frustrated with Downey's leadership in handling this relatively minor situation - I also find myself wondering if 'better late than never' is really true. If the water had been seriously contaminated, instead of slightly elevated levels of bacteria (probably harmless), would telling the population more than 24 hours later be ok? I don't think so. In 24 hours I bet a lot people drink water, brush their teeth and do other things that could expose them to the bad water. Is waking everyone up, twice, at night ok? Hey, we know it's late, but we wanted to let you know... Come on. That's just ridiculous.

Most of us have probably said better late than never at least one in our lives. I know I have. I'm going to make an effort to be more careful when saying that from now on. I don't think late is better than never. On time is better. If it's your birthday, I want to tell you happy birthday on time - not late. If you are sorrowful for something, I want to tell you when you mourn that you have my sympathies, not late. If you are celebrating a wedding, graduation or other big event, I want to tell you congratulations on time, not late. On time, now that is better.

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