I’ve been thinking a LOT about the drought lately. It’s hard not to when you live in an area that’s marked by a red so dark it borders on black on all the drought maps. It’s as if they ran out of shades of red with which to convey the seriousness of the situation.
Then, I went here.
And hallelujah, if I wasn’t already thinking about water issues I was now. There’s nothing like going somewhere where your scarce resources are abundant to put things in perspective. It’s like when my mom comes to California and discovers that avocados are two for a dollar. It’s guacamole time all the time. I could regale you with tales of what it’s like to have so many avocados that you worry they might go bad, but instead I’m going in a little more sobering direction.
This is what it’s like to live in a drought.
There’s so much blame. Have you seen the #droughtshaming hashtag? A quick Twitter search will give you pictures of runoff from faulty sprinklers, well-manicured golf courses, and more watered sidewalks than you can count. It’s like environmental McCarthyism. I may be guilty of overusing the term, but I tend to do it in conversation and not on the internet. Whether that’s better or just makes me so fun to hang out with? You be the judge.
Even the cities are getting in on it. Most cities have hotlines that you can use to turn in your neighbors. I haven’t done so, but I may have been tempted by the neighbors watering down their plastic chairs int he middle of a light rain.
Drought shaming is a nice vehicle for righteous anger, but doesn’t really solve anything. Luckily Californians are looking for more positive ways to address water waste. In fact, if you look at the #droughtshaming hashtag, at least a third of the tweets offer other solutions. That’s not something you normally find on social media.
You can find resources. It seems like everyone in our community is offering programs to learn more about how you can conserve. Our library recently offered a Water Wise Gardening program, but I was surprised when I saw similar programs offered several times a month through different organizations. There are rain barrel classes at the nature center, landscape seminars at the universities, and drought-tolerant workshops at the garden centers.
Water districts, which really had no need for flashy graphics before, are now among the top destinations on government websites. Residents who would like to get a rain barrell, tear out their lawn or replace their faucets can find rebates and classes from their city or water district almost anywhere in California. Unfortunately most of these rebates don’t apply to California’s many renters.
The rules are a constant source of frustration. Conversations on water usage come up all the time. I spoke with a coworker who was concerned that her city’s prohibition against planting new plants that aren’t drought-tolerant meant she had to forgo her garden. I leaned toward the growing your own food uses less resources than purchasing shipped food side of the equation, but the answers aren’t always clear. Different cities have different rules. Even neighbors might have different days that they are allowed to water on. Certain rules, like that you can’t water within 48 hours of significant rainfall, come into play so rarely that it’s not a surprise people forget they exist. Then there’s the distinction between restrictions (mandatory) and conservation measures (recommended)… If you haven’t already been immersed in water education, it’s easy to get a little lost.
It’s working (kind of). Many cities are meeting or exceeding the conservation thresholds Governor Brown has mandated and the savings have been improving drastically throughout the year. You can have tons of fun with the State Water Resources Board’s conservation reports to see the statistics. My city went from a 5% decrease in February (over 2013 statistics) to a 22% decrease by May. That’s higher than our mandated benchmark of 20%. Some places (yay! Merced at 43%!) are doing much better and some (boo! El Monte at -10%) are doing worse, but the good far outweighs the bad.
Remember all those rebates I mentioned? Our water district has already run out of funds for turf removal and that’s pretty common throughout the state. Other rebates are taking months to get to processed there are so many of them. On one hand it’s frustrating, but on the other it means people are making changes and making them rather quickly. That’s exciting!
Water conservation is a topic that seems to cross political boundaries, too. I could have a half hour conversation with someone about water usage and still have no idea where they stand politically, despite water conservation being tied into government regulations. Anytime people come together to make the world a better place, it’s a positive step for our state.
Now, I hate to be a downer, but even with all these positive steps, it’s unlikely that our drought problem will be solved. The state even has a website that allows us to watch our water supplies dwindle. California supports too much agriculture, too many people, and has too little precipitation. Unless that changes, these are only delaying tactics. I think that’s what really captures the reality of living in a drought. Even when we know we’re fighting a losing battle, we still band together to resist. And talk about how, hopefully, El Niño will be strong this year.