There is nothing our local civic leaders love more than a genuine environmental crisis, and we all better watch out for the current sound bite: “driest year on record.” Just last week the DWP called for a voluntary 10 percent reduction in water usage in Los Angeles. (In a horribly mixed metaphor, Mayor Villaraigosa referred to drought conditions and a potentially hot summer as a “perfect storm.”) One can only hope that local decision makers move forward deliberately on the issue and not panic.
Some perspective is in order. First, the vernacular surrounding water is all wrong, and everyone needs to lighten up. We do not “use” or “consume” water. You may recall from grade school science class that “Mr. Water” is a cycle. It all starts when “Mr. Sunshine” evaporates H2O, mostly from the oceans, which cover four-fifths of Earth, into vapor. (It may not have been the best movie ever made, but Waterworld is a darn good description of the planet upon which we reside.) Water vapor forms big, happy white clouds and when the conditions are correct, the clouds, convert water back into liquid (rain) or solids (snow, sleet and hail). Precipitation that hits land next begins its long journey back to the sea. For all practical purposes, water is neither created nor destroyed – certainly not “used” or “consumed.” So what happens when you turn on your kitchen tap or garden hose? You are joining the water cycle! And since we happen to live contiguous to Earth’s largest body of water, the Pacific Ocean, we Santa Monicans are cycling Mr. and Ms. Droplets just before they make their grand return to the sea.
What about the fact that we have had only four inches of rain since last July? Truth be that Southern California is a desert, and our beautiful dry days year-round are a primary cause of our ridiculously high property values. In fact, local rainfall hasn’t been a major source of water since Los Angeles was a sleepy pueblo. Instead, our Metropolitan Water District (a kind of giant wholesaler that serves local water agencies) cycles water to our doorsteps from four major sources: underground aquifers; the L.A. Aqueduct from the Eastern Sierra watershed; the California Water Project from the Feather River watershed north of Sacramento; and the vast Colorado watershed.
Is there cause for concern? Yes. While local aquifers are still flush from the wet 2005-06 winter, the other three sources are less than normal and may remain drier than usual for years to come. Solutions are many. Agriculture, which cycles most of the water in the various systems, just may have to cut back. At the homeowner level, it is always wise not to cycle more water than absolutely needed.
My primary suggestion at the home front comes from the good folks in Seattle. I happened to visit the “Emerald City” last October and was aghast to see virtually all the lawns dormant brown – ugly. I asked around, and sure enough, drying out the lawn is an annual tradition in Seattle, a kind of status statement of inconspicuous (no pun intended) consumption by the environmentally proper. So rather than dreading the drought, enjoy. Let your brown lawn and unwashed car become conversation starters. The only potential downside is that your political correctness may win you so many new friends that you will not be able to cut back on showers.