“Whiskey is for drinking, and water is for fighting over.”
— Mark Twain
July 1 marked the “official” beginning of mandatory water restrictions throughout most of San Diego County. While this may appear to be insignificant news, I believe it symbolizes a certain milestone. Essentially what a water restriction represents is the acknowledgement of drought conditions, and a concerted effort between water districts and their customers. This seems to be a positive step in the right direction, but really the battle has only just begun.
Imported water and drought have forever been two tricky issues, particularly in the west, where a burning question remains. Do we truly retain all rights to water that must be channeled and pumped hundreds of miles to meet our demands?
We’re now faced with a myriad of equally controversial alternatives; the “toilet to tap” solution perhaps being one of the most divisive substitutions. Water rate increases could be a potentially effective response to drought. Dry times call for desperate measures, and one way to tell a man to stop hosing down his driveway is by hitting his wallet. In San Diego, I am of the strong opinion that the desalination plant must become a reality. Our top priority at this time is water and where to find it.
As expected, the Surfrider Foundation opposes the desal plant for its own reasons, essentially slowing the building process to a halt. What irritates me the most about Surfrider’s stance is their disregard for the Colorado River. Are they not aware of the environmental degradation caused by damming and diverting one of the most important waterways in the west? I too am concerned with how the Agua Hedionda Lagoon will be affected by the desal plant, but it’s borderline insane to think we should continue relying on exported water to survive.
Believe it or not, San Diego actually has 11 water cops on its payroll. The problem with this seemingly benign concept is that most folks don’t want to be told how they can and can’t use their water. Water cops are a means to enforce cooperation and compliance, but house calls and gentle reminders hanging from doorknobs will only infuriate their customers. Some are even comparing the program to “Big Brother.”
Not surprisingly, cities such as San Diego are receiving a deluge of mostly anonymous voicemails from tattletale neighbors. Instead of convening in town hall settings to discuss drought solutions, people are having law enforcement intervene. This creates a hostile environment and solves very little.
For all this water restriction talk, cities around the county sure are doing a terrible job setting the standard. How are we supposed to react when new meters are installed, or large fountains run all day, or city-owned golf courses are excessively irrigated?
A few climate experts are predicting a wet, El Nino winter. It’s too early to rejoice in this prediction, but the good news could be the recharging of aquifers and a heavier snow pack. Otherwise, as Mark Twain so deftly noted, water is for fighting over. A second Civil War is in our future if we don’t find an immediate solution to our drying environment.