Water Is for Washing

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"Water is for Washing"
Author Robert A. Heinlein
Country USA
Language English
Genre(s) science fiction
Publication date 1947

"Water is for Washing" is a science fiction short story by Robert A. Heinlein, first published in Argosy (November 1947) and based on the premise that an earthquake had catastrophically shattered the range of alluvial deposits separating the Imperial Valley from the Gulf of California, precipitating a tsunami moving north to transiently drown these lowlands. Its final paragraph was edited out by the editor of Argosy magazine.

At the beginning of the story, Heinlein uses the character of a bartender in El Centro to establish the danger of the quake and inundation:

"You've heard about the 1905 flood, when the Colorado River spilled over and formed the Salton Sea? But don't be too sure about quakes; valleys below sea level don't just grow — something has to cause them. The San Andreas Fault curls around this valley like a question mark. Just imagine the shake-up it must have taken to drop thousands of square miles below the level of the Pacific."

Heinlein's perspective character is a traveling businessman who had picked up two chance-encountered children and a vagrant while driving frantically to higher ground, and the dramatic arc centers on the efforts of the men to survive and save the youngsters from drowning.

The story was later (1959) collected in one of Heinlein's anthologies, The_Menace_From_Earth.