This is a true story.

My wife and I bought our first house in June of 1993. It was a nice ranch-style house in my home-town. The seller had prepped it for market by keeping the lawn a gorgeous emerald green. He kept it trim and well-watered even until the day we moved in (June 23rd).

In this part of Oregon, brown-lawn season begins around June 21st. That is, if you don’t water your lawn past this date, it goes brown.

As I say, the lawn was gorgeous. I’d grown up in the country, just outside of town, and our lawn had never been gorgeous. It was a rough patch of brown grass and — mostly — various weeds. I relished the opportunity to maintain a lush green lawn.

I did everything I could to maintain the green. I watered for an hour in the monrning. I watered for an hour in the evening. Sometimes I watered for an hour in the afternoon. Throughout the month of July, I probably watered the lawn an average of twenty hours a week. Seriously. I mowed twice a week with a reel mower. I also applied a treatment of fertilizer. To weed the lawn, I got down on my hands and knees and crawled over ever inch, pulling every noxious plant by hand. No joke — I did this!

The days were long and very hot, but my lawn weathered it well. As July drew to a close, our lawn was, by far, the most spectacular lawn in the neighborhood. The most spectacular lawn in the city. For all I know, it was the most spectacular lawn in the state! It was a carpet of deep green, completely weed-free. I was a proud, proud man.

One weekend we attended a yard party at a friend’s house. The grown-ups sat around and talked about life, talked about gardening. The conversation turned, and people began to complain about their water bills. Water bills? Kris and I exchanged puzzled glances. Water bills? The conversation continued, and people began to compare water bills.

My heart began to sink. The implication was clear. I mustered the courage to ask, in a small voice, “Do you mean you have to pay for water?”

“Well,” said one woman. “Do you live in the city?” I nodded. “Do you have your own well?” I shook my head. I had grown up with a well, but didn’t have one now. “Then you’re on city water, and you have to pay for it.”

I broke into a cold sweat. “How much does water cost?” I asked. I’d always thought water was like air: a fundamental human right. Free! How could somebody charge for water?

Our first water bill came several days later. It was $80, which seemed like a lot to us at the time, especially since we had budgeted a grand total of nothing for the expense.

I cut back my watering after that to just a couple of hours a week.

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