Water wars are alive & well
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.”