When I was a youngster in Appalachia, my grandfather and I would sometimes go to the Black Valley Spring to fetch water. Granddad’s summer cottage had no plumbing. We made do with rain barrels, a couple of intermittent springs near the house, and extreme conservation methods that included an outhouse. It was never absolutely necessary to tote water from Black Valley Spring, but Granddad liked the taste of it. The spring stood on county land, and as we sank extra-large mayonnaise jars and ceramic jugs into its depths, he would say, “If this gusher was on someone’s private property, it would be worth a lot of money.”

Granddad was right on two counts: The consistent flow of straight-from-the-mountainside water, so clear you could see the minute ridges in the stones at its bottom, would have brought a private… More…