Who You Gonna Call? Drought Busters.
California isn't experiencing its worst drought ever, but water supplies are rapidly drying up. "It's like we're running towards a cliff, but we're not there yet so we keep running," Santa Monica College earth science professor Bill Selby said. Southern California's rising population of 38 million will soon demand more water than our current aquifers supply. Most consumers don't know this fact. Your sprinklers still gush forth, your tap runs forever and you can still take 30-minute showers with little consequence. Unless you are on an extremely tight budget, the four cents a gallon provided by the Department of Water and Power won't affect your water use. Compare water costs to a $4 gallon of gas and it's practically nothing."Water is like our gold, and we have to treat it like that," Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger told the New York Times.
According to lawmakers the situation is rather dire. On June 5 Schwarzenegger declared that "the state might be forced to ration water to cities and regions if conservation efforts did not improve," according to the New York Times.
Since then, conservation efforts haven't improved dramatically. To kick-start the conservation effort, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa ushered in new legislation to curb water waste last month. The new "drought buster" laws double the fines for blatant water waste such as watering a lawn between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m, washing a car without a hose nozzle and spraying down a sidewalk.
Currently, there are five "drought busters" that cruise L.A. looking for people violating the law. Mostly, the "drought busters" will go directly to violators based upon anonymous tips given to the DWP. This sounds like little more than a good way for disgruntled neighbors to get back at one another, but on the other hand, encouragement and pressure from our peers might be what we need to start conserving water.
If caught, a "drought buster" issues a warning for the first offence and up to a $300 fine for the fourth. However, a "drought buster" must actually see the offence to issue a violation, so widespread ticketing, or stopping water waste seems unlikely.
Even if these new laws stopped water waste for all DWP subscribers, there is everyone else in L.A. County that can go on wasting water without breaking the law. The "drought buster" laws only affects people that get their water from the DWP. Only about one eighth of residents in all of L.A. and L.A. County combined can be ticketed under the new laws.
If effective under their limited scope, the laws will need time to take effect. Even the Department of Parks and Recreation haven't broken out of old habits. On Sept. 3, the L.A. Times reported city workers using an industrial-grade hose to spray down tennis courts in Griffith Park. This doesn't set a good example. "[People are] thinking, well, heck, if the city can waste water, why can't I," David Campbell, a Vermont Canyon tennis regular, said to the L.A. Times.
This law is a good start for a widespread conservation effort for L.A., but legislation alone can't stop water waste and looming shortages. "If we have another drought year then we're in deep trouble," Selby said. The "drought busters" laws can't prevent bad weather, but it can save Villagrosa's reputation.
When the reality of rationing potentially shuts off taps next year, the mayor can say he passed legislation to curb water use. The "drought busters" laws are a token gesture to a potentially outraged public.
"Step back to Marin County during California's worst drought in 1977. The water supply was so low that a household could only use a bathtub full of water every day," Selby said. "Otherwise you'd be breaking the law."
It's time for Southern Californians to wake up and accept their identity. Selby said, "This isn't Maine!" Residents use 20 percent of California's water supply. Farmers use the other 80 percent. The majority of residential water is used for maintaining lavish gardens and exotic plants that don't belong in Southern California's desert climate. It's nice to have a green lawn, but at what price?
The world is in the middle of a huge water crisis. "There will be devastating wars fought over water in the next few decades," Selby predicted. "Most of these wars will be fought in the Middle East and North Africa where governments can't afford to desalinize water."
In America, we can afford to desalinize our water. California probably won't go to war over water, but taxpayers should be prepared to pay for what could have been conserved. On Aug. 22, the California State Lands Commission passed a $300-million dollar project to build a desalinization plant north of San Diego, according to the L.A. Times. This will provide life-sustaining water, but will cost double what water is priced at now, Selby said.
Currently, legislators and government officals aren't articulating the drought's severity. If consumers want affordable water in the future, people can't continue watering desert oasises called "gardens" and running tap while brushing their teeth.
Consumers must start conserving water, or suppliers should raise rates to reflect a future crisis. Maybe suppliers should shut of water periodically to get a message across. This drought is serious and it's not going away!
Water should become something that consumers purchase consciously, not throw over their plants. Most people have the notion that water is in unlimited supply because it flows freely and cheaply from the tap.
Water and gasoline are similar commodities. Both are used like they will never run out. During the 90s people could drive huge cars for little cost because gas cost a dollar a gallon. Now, people are using public transit because the price of gas rose to $5 a gallon this summer. Someday in the near future, the price of water will spike like gas did because we use it so frugally. Gov. Schwarzenegger was right when he said water is like our gold. Let's think twice before flushing it down the toilet.