As most of you know, while the rest of the country has been hit by snowstorms, rainstorms, and mudslides, California is entering into its third year of drought. If you don’t know, just start watching your produce prices this summer and you’re bound to notice.
Californians have lived through this sequence before; I remember back in the mid-70s being forced to take “Army” showers (I also remember my roommate cavalierly leaving the water running while he brushed his teeth).
There are, truth be told, some advantages to a drought. You can drive a filthy car without being criticized. You can skip the pretext of pre-washing your dishes and let the dishwasher attack the grime. You can skip a shower, and when someone says you stink of body odor, you can respond with morally superior civic-mindedness.
But while I’m happy to take advantage of those perks, at the same time, I must admit to becoming somewhat inured to the politicians’ cries that to the effect that – even though rain might not be falling – the sky is.
Here’s why. I’ve come to notice a rather annoying pattern in the reporting on the drought. We’ll be told that a certain reservoir’s capacity is done to 50 percent of normal, or that rainfall is 25 percent of normal. (Insert shrieks of panic regarding these completely random numbers here.) But no one actually reveals what normal usage is.
If my gas tank is 25 percent full, and I’m going to drive 500 miles, that’s a cause for concern. But if it’s 25 percent full, and I’m going across town, it’s not. So if a certain reservoir is 50 percent full, and we use 25% of that capacity annually, yes, that’s probably a problem. But if we only use 1% of its capacity annually, excuse me, I think I’ll go top off the swimming pool. I have not seen a single article that explains how much water we actually use annually.
I’m also beginning to get a little cavalier for other reasons. For instance, I’ve read that industrial water usage far outstrips residential usage, so my taking an Army shower really doesn’t have much of an effect compared to a farm reducing its consumption by 5 percent, say (again, making these numbers up). According to a letter to the editor in this morning’s Chronicle, the cotton, rice, and alfalfa crops alone soak up 15 percent of agricultural water usage in California.
And while some northern California cities are imposing water limits and fines, there are no such restrictions being imposed in southern California. The golf courses in Palm Springs are still emerald green.
Speaking of restrictions, it would be nice if there were some consistency to them. I realize that certain water districts have access to more liquid resources than others, but yesterday’s San Francisco Chronicle reported that the East Bay city of Dublin is restricting its citizens to 640 gallons of water a day. Think about that a moment. The paper noted, without wry intent, that the cap “is expected to affect a fraction of residential customers.”
And as some of my conservation-minded friends note, it’s harder for someone who conserves regularly to cut back than it is for someone who’s been watering their lawn in the middle of the day.
At the same time, Santa Cruz has imposed a limit of approximately 249 gallons a day. That still sounds like a lot, but here’s the kicker I love: according to the story, “the caps don’t apply to businesses.” That means restaurants can keep slinging water glasses onto patrons’ tables and keep filling them up with impunity.
I can see there’s no rain. I’m being told there’s a drought. But until I get some real information about when we might actually run out of water, or see some consistency in how California’s citizens – both commercial and residential – are told to respond to the “emergency,” I have to admit that I’m getting more and more drought intolerant.