Chief among those unappreciated blessings taken for granted is clean water. Water that doesn't make us sick. Something that, as it turns out, doesn't just magically appear, but requires constant vigilance and disciplined management.
By coincidence, just as I read this story about a small proposed increase in Salem's water and sewer rates (and the many complaints about it), I finished a fascinating book called The Big Necessity: The unmentionable world of human waste and why it matters. Highly recommended. Every person who eats and drinks should read this book.
As the author, Rose George, states in her introduction, sanitation -- keeping poop out of the drinking water -- has done far more to improve human health and social wealth and happiness than all the money spent on health care and all doctors, nurses, and pharmacists combined.
Sadly, we live in a city filled with people who, like most Americans, are happy to throw millions of dollars at useless upgrades to an airport without airlines, big TVs, and acres of "free" parking, but then grumble about a few bucks more a month to upgrade our sewer facilities. In a city where the City Council is eager to blow hundreds of millions of dollars on a third Willamette River bridge, we should be grateful that they recognized the value of good sanitation.
UPDATE: There's a good source of revenue for paying for water/sewer systems that we're overlooking: bottled beverages sold in stores and drinks sold in shops and restaurants.
We should use a small beverage tax devoted entirely to upgrading and maintaining local water and sewer systems. which should be levied on wholesalers of all bottled/canned drinks and on people selling drinks (restaurants, bars, theatre snack bars, coffee shops, etc.).
By getting a tiny fee for each drink sold in Salem --- or, even better, anywhere in Marion County --- we could raise very significant revenue at little or no admin/collection cost and would help account for the fact that a lot of what our sewers handle doesn't start out as tapwater, which was the case many years ago when we tied sewer rates to household/business water use.