If the money needed for these hugely expensive proposals were used to fund conservation and reuse projects, the water shortage problem would be fixed.
As California struggles with ongoing drought, the favored solutions are all engineering fixes -- technological responses to a human plight. When it comes to water, this is what we Americans always do: figure out some way to augment existing water supplies rather than learn to live within our existing supplies.
And so it is with California in 2009. New dams, a revamped plumbing system for the Bay-Delta, and desalination plants on the coast are the main items under discussion. If the money needed for these hugely expensive proposals were used to fund conservation and reuse projects, the water shortage problem would be fixed.
But conservation might require Californians to recognize that the state has a water problem and reuse faces the "yuck" factor. Not long ago, the San Diego Tribune editorialized: "Your golden retriever may drink out of the toilet with no ill effects. But that doesn't mean humans should do the same." It's a funny line, even though reclaimed water is suitable for lots of uses other than human consumption.
Some California municipalities have enacted conservation plans. Take San Diego, for example. Just last week Mayor Jerry Sanders gushed about his city's conservation efforts. "Today, we're poised at the beginning of a new era in San Diego's water history." What brought out this burst of civic pride in the mayor? The city is designating specific lawn watering days for all residents and businesses. Residents in odd-numbered houses may only water their lawns on Saturdays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays, while even-numbered houses get to water lawns on three other days.
I suppose this is progress, but "a new era"? Other communities have been far more progressive in water conservation efforts, even Las Vegas, which is hardly known for its water-use consciousness. Yet, it's been paying residents to rip out lawns. This program has succeeded in removing 80 million square feet of water-guzzling turf.
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