When it comes to California water wasters, authorities are taking the stick approach now that we’ve munched up all the carrots.
That big stick comes in the form of fines of up to $500 a day that the State Water Quality Control Board approved Tuesday for people who waste through over-irrigating landscaping so that water runs to the sidewalks and streets, on fountains, on washing vehicles with a constantly running hose and other outdoor uses.
Stunningly, just as the board was getting input from citizens Tuesday, the news came that Californians are actually using more water than before Gov. Jerry Brown called for cutbacks and issued a drought emergency proclamation six months ago.
That’s right. Last month, the news was bad enough: Though the governor had called for a 20 percent voluntary reduction in water use, Californians had instead cut back a paltry 5 percent.
Turns out the statistics were wrong. A new analysis shows we actually used 1 percent more water instead of cutting back at all. The updated number was based on surveys taken from water districts throughout California and was based on consumption from this May compared to the same month in previous years.
Looks as if touting the news of the drought’s seriousness on those freeway signs used for SigAlerts and kidnapped-kid announcements hasn’t done the trick for Californians. Instead of cutting back to a trickle, we’ve opened the spigots wide on our way to Splash Mountain.
Let’s set aside for the moment the fact that most of the water used in California is for agriculture — some of it on the kind of flood-loving crops that don’t belong in our state. That’s a long-term issue we’re not going to solve in the near term. Let’s instead grapple with the fact that quite clearly the usage by ordinary Californians has not been impacted at all by the governor’s emergency declaration and conservation request.
Part of the problem may be, sadly, the simple ignorance of people who rely on the self-selected, filtered news of Facebook and other social media. If everyone, or at least someone in each household, read the papers and kept up with TV and radio news, the seriousness of the drought declaration would have been easier to convey.
But let’s not let Californians off the hook so easily. If they can’t pay attention to the weather, and can’t pay attention to the news, something’s got to get them to see the problem. We would imagine the possibility of a $500 fine for the almost willful ignorance that is letting your sprinkler runoff pour into the gutters in a state where it rarely rains might make a person sit up and take notice.
Before the logistics of that big government stick are worked out, Southern Californians can work with their family members and neighbors to make the cutbacks the governor asked for and didn’t get in January.
As Amy Alkon, the funny and savvy etiquette expert who writes as the Advice Goddess, told KPCC radio listeners Tuesday, the way forward may involve a little tut-tutting, but never shaming. Don’t finger point at one profligate rainbird-happy homeowner on your block. Call a neighborhood meeting and talk about drought-tolerant landscaping over iced teas and cake. Or post a general announcement on utility poles or the branch library bulletin board. Empathy is the key, she says.
We’re all in this drought together and can solve it that way. If that doesn’t work, expect to be poked with that stick.