Last March, California Governor Jerry Brown announced his state’s first-ever mandatory water restrictions, in an effort to cope with four years of the worst drought in the state’s history. A warming climate and the lack of snow in the Cascades and Sierra Nevada mountain ranges dramatically reduced snowmelt, a crucial provider of water to California and the agricultural belt in its Central Valley. So, Governor Brown imposed a requirement for cities and towns to cut water consumption by 25%. “We’re in a new era,” Brown said. “The idea of your nice little green grass getting lots of water every day, that’s going to be a thing of the past.”
Arguably, the two most crucial elements to maintain life on earth are air and water. So, requiring everyone to cut water consumption by 25% seems a logical and not too dramatic move. But remember, this is California, home to celebrities and other wealthier-than-average citizens who have large, lush lawns, swimming pools, and avocado trees. To put it in perspective, nationwide the average family of 4 uses 400 gallons of water per day, or approximately 12,500 gallons per month. Conversely, comedian Amy Poehler, last year used 170,000 gallons more than allowed in just two months between May 14 and July 14. Her excess alone would have supplied water to an average household for 14 months! And this was after the water restrictions went into effect. Entertainment magnate David Geffen used 27,000 gallons on average per day between June and August. That is 1,620,000 gallons of water in a two-month period! Enough to supply an average household with water for 11 years! Apparently the rich do not believe the rules and regulations apply to them.
But it is not only the rich-and-famous who decried and defied the restrictions. Rancho Santa Fe resident Steve Yuhas resents the idea that it is somehow shameful to be a water hog. If you can pay for it, he argues, you should get your water. People “should not be forced to live on property with brown lawns, golf on brown courses or apologize for wanting their gardens to be beautiful. We pay significant property taxes based on where we live, and, no, we’re not all equal when it comes to water.” Wow. What a great, humanitarian attitude, Mr. Yuhas. God forbid that you have to golf on a less-than-lush golf course just so some who are ‘less equal’ than you can have water to drink, cook, and bathe! Another Rancho Santa Fe resident, Gay Butler, said “What are we supposed to do, just have dirt around our house on four acres?” Awwww …. Pobrecita! Perhaps you could try being thankful that you have four acres and that thus far you at least have clean drinking water, unlike so many around the world! Overall, however, it appears that most average citizens, people like you and me, understand and have adapted with few complaints.
So that was last year. Though the drought is ongoing and scientists predict it will last for several more years or even decades, just this month the State Water Resources Control Board voted to end the restrictions and let 408 water districts decide how much water their customers should conserve. Moderate to severe drought still grips three-quarters of California, and studies show the state is the driest it has been in 500 years! So researchers, scientists and concerned citizens (obviously this would not include Mr. Yuhas and Ms. Butler from the previous paragraph) are scratching their heads and wondering why the state is lifting the restrictions at this time, and whether it is the wise thing to do. Max Gomberg, climate conservation manager for the Water Resources Control Board, said that they will continue to monitor water usage and supplies and are prepared to step in with new restrictions should it become necessary. We still must wonder what makes them think it is unnecessary now, though. Do you think it could possibly … just maybe … have something to do with the fact that this is an election year? As one concerned citizen put it, “The reason is “political”. Democrats who control California want to be reelected in the Fall. Hush! Keep it quiet. Maybe the voters won’t realize that they’ll be sucking water from rocks after the election and Sacramento cuts off their water to help fish in the Pacific Ocean.”
As I stated at the beginning, water is one of our most precious resources. Without water to drink, we will die. California and much of the west has a serious problem, one that is not likely to be resolved any time soon. 783 million people worldwide do not have access to clean water (United Nations – 2013). Can California really afford to lift the restrictions now? Will they be forced to re-instate them almost immediately after the November elections? Is this a political move? And last, but not least, can people really be so shallow as to believe that watering their lawn daily outranks the need for water for everyone to drink, wash dishes and clothes, and bathe? Think about it.