Closing the Floodgates: California’s New Water Restrictions

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Governor Jerry Brown has instituted a new set of restrictions on water consumption at a statewide level in response to increasing concerns about the ongoing California drought. The plan calls for a 25 percent cut in water consumption across the state. However, his plan exempts restriction on California agriculture, which is responsible for 80 percent of the state’s water use, with the remaining 20 percent accounted for by residential use, among other things.

Though it is undoubtedly necessary to take measures to reduce the severity of the drought, Governor Brown’s plan is inherently flawed by letting the agricultural sector run unhampered by the new policy. The amount of water that will be saved by restricting residential water use will be far outweighed by the amount poured into agriculture, so realistically, any plan not limiting agricultural water use is completely futile.

Furthermore, the 25 percent that is to be cut from private water use is an unrealistically large expectation to make of Californians so suddenly, especially considering that the government itself is not taking any responsibility for aiding in reducing water use. There is not even an adequate system in place for enforcing the governor’s plan or to punish those who violate it; the government simply fines the water districts $10,000 for every day they do not reduce water consumption sufficiently. Thus, Governor Brown’s “plan” is quite hollow and unfair toward the residents of the state.

The plan’s futility is not Governor Brown’s fault; after all, what American (better yet, what Californian) would willingly give up any significant part of their water use? I imagine very few would. In a culture where sprinklers soak sidewalks and homeowners dream of having that fancy built-in pool, water itself is not viewed as a luxury, nor is it valued as a necessary daily commodity; it is simply consumed blindly and taken for granted. We assume that when a faucet is turned on water will come out, but in a bad enough drought, with water treated so wastefully, perhaps the day will come when that faucet will run dry.

Of course, this is a worst-case scenario, but the threat of it should spur on Californians, both at local and statewide levels, to make real, significant changes. People with a little bit more environmental consciousness have had ideas on what the average citizen can do to save water, be it five-minute showers or watering the lawn only every other day. Perhaps the occasional person was convinced of the usefulness of such ideas and went about following them, but this simply is not enough. The only way to effect the needed conservation is to change the culture of California, from the parched ground up.

These sorts of alterations would not be convenient, nor would they be cheap, but when all is said and done, making these sorts of radical changes might be enough to avert a crisis with California’s water situation. A few of these potential ideas are listed below.

First, people need to let their lawns die. Southern California is a desert, and grass does not grow in the desert; of course, it can, especially when it is practically drowned by lavish and careless watering, as I have seen in many a yard before. Grass is not an efficient user of our limited water resources, so to do away with it on a massive scale would save an immense amount of water, certainly several percent toward Governor Brown’s goal. Anyone insisting on a yard besides dirt can work with the sorts of plants (not just cacti) that do grow naturally in the desert.

Second, the government has to do its part by putting investments into water-saving technologies, or better yet, technology that will add to our available pool of water resources. In Israel, for example, there are facilities that remove the salt from the waters of the adjacent Mediterranean Sea, making such water potable. With access to an entire salty ocean, large-scale construction of similar facilities in California, though in all likelihood grossly expensive (and here an opportunity presents itself for the government to do its part and subsidize such construction), could add a great boost to the amount of water that is readily available.

Last, backing up the new water restrictions with harsh penalties could prevent small-scale water waste. There are already fines in place for people who overwater their lawns, but these are so rarely charged that they are not an effective deterrent. Stepping up enforcement of such fines, perhaps with a separate “water police,” ought to make it clear to the public that such waste is not acceptable and will not be tolerated.

Though government force could greatly help California’s water situation, the discontent this would likely generate would only be a detriment to conservation efforts. It is therefore ultimately up to each and every individual in California to make real changes if we wish to have water down the line.


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