Water Politics

It’s raining here in Columbus this morning, just as it does virtually every day in April.  I can hear the patter of raindrops against windowpanes and the rumble of thunder rolling from east to west.  These deeply familiar sounds are symbols of what Ohio and the Midwest has in abundance — fresh water, pouring down from the skies, puddling on sidewalks, sluicing down streets to storm drains, and rushing into roaring rivers and streams.  We check the forecast, grab umbrellas and don raincoats, and mutter about another rainy day.

IMG_5116But what we mutter about, southern California craves.  An area that always has been water-challenged is now water-deprived, as it experiences another year of punishing drought.  Water, the most basic building block of life, will be rationed in southern California, by edict of Governor Jerry Brown and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.  Los Angeles will have to cut consumption by 20 percent, and other communities will have to reduce use by 35 percent.  It’s as if the people of SoCal were living in a castle under siege — except it’s Mother Nature who is employing the siege tactics.

None of this is surprising for the residents of southern California, who have been hearing about dwindling water supplies for years.  But officials have noticed an odd phenomenon — as the water supply crisis has become more dire, some people in southern California are increasing their use of water.  Presumably those people have concluded that water restrictions are coming, anyway, so they might was well take an extra-long shower or increase their lawn sprinkler use before the restrictions arrive.  And that apparent “what the hell” attitude has caused the water regulators to argue that they have no choice but to impose mandatory restrictions and punitive charges on water users who exceed the limits.

It’s not entirely clear how the restrictions will affect individuals, yet.  There’s probably no risk of jackbooted water police ripping out sprinkler systems or kicking in the doors of home to install low-flow shower heads, but the people of southern California ultimately will have to accept the inevitable conclusion that there are too many people, animals, and plants in the region in view of the limited water supplies.  Heavily watered green lawns will be replaced by native desert plants, showers will be dribbles rather than blasts, and parks and common areas will have to change.  And the people involved in California’s enormous agricultural sector will have to figure out how to make do with less H2O.

Ultimately these restrictions are the price that must be paid when too many people decide to live in a desert.  Who knows?  Maybe some of those people, tired of feeling dirty and looking at brown surroundings, may decide to relocate to places where steaming showers and green grass are the norm.  Golden Staters, you’re welcome here in the Midwest.

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