Wa­ter wars are alive & well

Manteca Bulletin - - Local - To con­tact re­porter Ja­son Camp­bell email jcamp­bell@ man­te­ab­ul­letin.com or call 209.249.3544.

In the wake of Gov­er­nor Jerry Brown’s re­cent sig­na­ture on a pair of bills that will force Cal­i­for­nia to­wards its first ever per­ma­nent wa­ter re­stric­tions, it’s im­por­tant to clar­ify a few things. No mat­ter what any­body tells you, you aren’t go­ing to be charged $1,000 if you do your laun­dry and take a shower in the same span of sun­light. I know – it al­most seems crazy to have to point that out. But in our re­ac­tionary times, when things are boiled down to buzz­words and opin­ions are formed based on head­lines and sub­graphs, I think talk­ing openly about the con­text of a mat­ter is the only way to reach any sort of a con­sen­sus – if that’s even pos­si­ble in modern po­lit­i­cal dis­course. So let us start at the be­gin­ning. Cal­i­for­nia just got out of the worst drought on record. That means that in all of the years that have been keep­ing track of these things in this lit­tle sliver of the Amer­i­can West, it was the dri­est pe­riod that they’ve ex­pe­ri­enced.

It also hap­pened to come at a time when the State and those that sur­round it were at their most pop­u­lated. We had the most amount of peo­ple us­ing wa­ter at the pe­riod of time that we had the least amount of wa­ter avail­able.

While the im­me­di­ate dis­cus­sion was right­fully about what we were go­ing to do in or­der to en­sure that taps don’t run dry and peo­ple are able to sus­tain them­selves, the idea of hav­ing a con­tin­ued dis­cus­sion about what we’re go­ing to do mov­ing for­ward – even af­ter the wettest win­ter on record that snapped the drought in a mat­ter of weeks – just seems like good pol­icy.

Ob­vi­ously, a drought is go­ing to hap­pen again, and when it does we’re go­ing to have more peo­ple to scrounge up wa­ter for and there­fore we should prob­a­bly talk about the ways in which we’re go­ing to not only han­dle that sit­u­a­tion but also make changes to en­sure the im­pacts aren’t quite as ex­ten­sive the next time around.

Thanks to our hy­per­po­lit­i­cal cli­mate, how­ever, these sorts of dis­cus­sions can’t take place. If Jerry Brown signs some­thing that has the word wa­ter in it, then he’s ob­vi­ously work­ing an an­gle to make his dis­as­trous twin tun­nels a re­al­ity and take steps to­wards turn­ing Cal­i­for­nia into the Com­mu­nist utopia that he se­cret pines for.

At least that’s what his de­trac­tors would have you be­lieve.

These bills in ques­tion do some­thing that is long over­due in the na­tion’s most pop­u­lous state. It forces wa­ter dis­tricts to adopt wa­ter bud­gets, which there­fore cre­ates an en­vi­ron­ment where ev­ery­body down the line is more con­scious about the de­ci­sions that they make re­gard­ing wa­ter in The Golden State.

Maybe you don’t wash your car quite as of­ten when you have a fi­nite amount of wa­ter. Maybe you in­vest in a low flow ap­pli­ances. If you need an ex­am­ple of how this works, spend a week on a house­boat where you not only have a lim­ited sup­ply of clean wa­ter, but have lim­ited space to store the grey­wa­ter that you use dur­ing that time span.

The bill also forces agri­cul­ture, which uses the ma­jor­ity of Cal­i­for­nia’s sur­face wa­ter, to achieve re­duc­tion goals and ad­here to bud­gets.

These are ob­vi­ously good things that are needed in a state where wells and taps ran dry, right?

But for some rea­son peo­ple are fo­cused on sin­gle el­e­ments of the bills that are then taken out of con­text and used as a jus­ti­fi­ca­tion to rail against not only the au­thors, but the peo­ple who sup­port the no­tion.

The planned in­door wa­ter use tar­get of 55 gal­lons per per­son per day is sin­gu­larly gen­er­at­ing wide­spread op­po­si­tion to this much needed ap­proach be­cause peo­ple are sim­ply jump­ing to the most ex­treme sce­nar­ios and us­ing that to de­ter­mine that there is no way that they could pos­si­bly achieve such a goal.

But that’s only one part of the equa­tion – the out­door tar­get has not yet been set and won’t be set un­til at least 2021. With­out that num­ber it’s hard to com­pare cur­rent wa­ter use data with pro­posed tar­gets since they don’t align. The De­part­ment of Wa­ter Re­sources has said that the av­er­age user in Cal­i­for­nia has gone from us­ing 109 gal­lons per day in 2013 to only 90 gal­lons per day in 2017, and other stud­ies say that as much as 60 per­cent of res­i­den­tial wa­ter use goes to­wards land­scap­ing and ir­ri­ga­tion. Us­ing that for­mula, many house­holds are likely us­ing less than the 55 gal­lons per per­son per day right now.

And the $1,000 fine that is in­cluded in the bill – up to $10,000 dur­ing wa­ter emer­gen­cies? That’s for the wa­ter dis­tricts them­selves, who are also on the hook if they don’t have a wa­ter bud­get in place, and don’t take steps to cor­rect over­ages or map out a plan for long-term con­ser­va­tions. The fine isn’t the first thing that comes, just as those who were tagged for wast­ing wa­ter dur­ing the height of the drought weren’t im­me­di­ately fined – there’s a pe­riod of time for ad­just­ment, and for cor­rec­tive mea­sures to be taken.

Up un­til a few years ago Ripon didn’t even have wa­ter me­ters on res­i­den­tial houses. You just paid your monthly bill and used what­ever you wanted. My sis­ter in Sacramento just had a wa­ter me­ter put on her house. Ob­vi­ously there are en­tire pop­u­la­tions that are new to the idea of con­serv­ing what they use. I’m sure that those peo­ple don’t nec­es­sar­ily want to be told that they can’t con­tinue to do things as they al­ways have.

But with­out a uni­form ap­proach to this is­sue, we’re in for a rude awak­en­ing at some point in the very near fu­ture.

Pock­ets of this Great Cen­tral Val­ley are con­sid­ered a desert. Other parts are sink­ing at a rapid rate thanks to the ex­ces­sive de­ple­tion of ground­wa­ter to com­pen­sate for a lack of sur­face wa­ter dur­ing the dry years. These are signs that some­thing needs to be done. So, don’t be­lieve some­one that takes a com­plex is­sue that is stud­ied aca­dem­i­cally and sci­en­tif­i­cally and boils it down to a few buzz­words or easy to re­mem­ber bits.

As H.L. Mencken said, “for ev­ery com­plex prob­lem there is an an­swer that is clear, sim­ple, and wrong.”

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