Four years ago, I moved from a small New Jersey town located just a hop, skip and a jump from New York City, to the charming college town (actually city) of Davis, California. There are still things I miss that were readily available to me there, i.e., old friends, Broadway, lobster, clams on the half-shell, Jewish deli, duck sauce in Chinese restaurants, but the weather (especially this year) and the warm friendly people here make up for these losses. And we do have Dungeness crab. I was also pleasantly surprised to find that culture is thriving in Davis and in the surrounding area, so I have not been deprived of my biweekly theater fix. But there is one thing to which I am having great difficulty adjusting.

Not to mince words, Davis water sucks. Who would believe that one should check out water quality before relocating? It’s not just the taste of the water which most people agree is indisputably bad. I’ve partially solved that problem by ignoring all the warnings against drinking the contents of plastic containers  and imbibing bottled water whenever possible. Harder to deal with is how my skin feels after a shower or bath. Slimy. Even worse is what the water does to my hair. No matter what brand of shampoo I use, in the rinse phase my hair forms one humungous clump. Conditioner helps. Pouring bottled water over my head also helps as do other moisturizing hair products, but the whole process is time consuming, sort of like Facebook, another gobbler of my writing hours.

It’s unlike washing your hair anywhere else in the entire country, or even the world. And I speak from experience. I’ve washed my hair in Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma (they don’t have much else but they do have really good water in Edmond), San Francisco, Denver, Paris, London, Tokyo——I could go on and on. In none of these places had I ever given a second’s thought as to whether or not this would be a good city in which to wash my hair.


The problem is that the water in Davis is ground water extracted from wells which contain a glut of minerals plus sundry other undesirable matter. The infusion of purification chemicals is required in order to make the water safe for human and animal consumption. I met a woman who swears her dog became ill from drinking Davis water but she provided no scientific proof. To my knowledge no animal, canine or otherwise, has actually died from it. My cats drink it. I’ve tried to protect them by filling their kitty fountain with filtered water, but they insist on jumping on the bathroom sink and drinking from the faucet. So far they are surviving.

Most people here use water softeners to prevent the hard water from damaging external pipes. My guess is that this causes what I previously referred to as the sliminess. Also possibly the white residue that coats almost everything including probably, everyone’s internal pipes.

The good citizens of Davis have been wrestling with this situation for more than twenty-five years, and they are finally planning to do something about it. Like the wheels of justice, however, the wheels of change in Davis turn slowly. There’s a plan afoot to join the city of Woodland in building a pipeline to draw water from the Sacramento River. It will be expensive and there are those who continue to argue against it. My conclusion is that those people have lived here so long their taste buds have been permanently damaged, plus they are probably balding and feel no empathy for the hair plight of the rest of us. And I’d be willing to wager these are the same people who voted against fluoridating the water which has no taste and would have benefited the teeth of the children of Davis.

I will not hold my breath, but I look forward to the construction of the aforementioned pipeline and fervently hope that the present drought is short lived, so that if and when that day comes, there will still be water in the Sacramento River.

6 Responses

  1. There is nothing worse than lousy water. I’ve been through this every time I’ve moved. Softened water can feel “slimy” to those used to hard water, which is prevalent in most of the US. But “lime,” aka calcium, in hard water is what builds up inside pipes and on hair, skin, bathtubs and dishes. It changes the flavor of drinks and foods and reduces the soapiness of soap. I’ve learned to taste the water before I buy a house, and to get it tested as part of a purchase agreement.

    Good luck!

    • Thanks, Nikki. I would never have thought I’d become obsessed with water. In the east good water is something we take for granted. My fiancé has lived in Davis forever and he never mentioned the icky water to me before I moved. Well, I guess it’s one of those compromises one makes in a relationship. But he owes me!!

  2. Nancy, I apologize for laughing, and I really do feel your pain. Water is a THE subject in California. Did you ever see that classic old Jack Nicholson movie “Chinatown”? Water is an ongoing problem, an ongoing controversy. Just pick a region — they are arguing about water.

    But back to Davis and the San Joaquin Valley — good luck in finding tap water fit to drink. I lived in Hanford, just south of Fresno, for 50 years, and the water there smells like sulphur. I have long ago forgotten why.

    Small wonder that every business, and a lot of homes, have the big spring water dispensers sitting in prominent places. Bottled water is big business in California. That’s for drinking. I don’t know about shampooing. I go to the beauty parlor and let them worry about it.

    But look on the bright side. You can’t beat the climate here. I just returned to the Valley after an 8-year sojourn in Oklahoma, and believe me — California has climate, Oklahoma has weather.

    • You’re right about the climate, Pat. I really feel for my step-daughter-to-be in Oklahoma and my son in New Jersey this year. I don’t remember disliking the weather over all the years that I lived in NJ, but I do think this year has been especially hard to take. I’m so happy not to have to shovel (or hire someone to shovel) the mounds of snow in my driveway! The moral of the story I guess, is that life’s a trade-off. You win something, you lose something else. On balance, I’m sticking with CA.

  3. When we moved to Kewanee, Illinois, we learned right away that the reason the water tasted so bad to us was that the city well went through a vein of salt. People with high blood pressure had to drink bottled water in the 1950s, before the days of drinking bottled water. The rest of us learned gradually to tolerate it. But my mother switched her brand of coffee three times before she finally tumbled.

    • Well, I’ve learned something. I had no idea there were so many places around the country with bad-tasting water! Maybe compared to Kewanee, Davis water isn’t so bad. (I’m still not inclined to drink it, though.)

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