April 15 2015 10:19 AM

Conserve, or we all pay for the dearth of agua

Lake_Mead
Lake Mead in September, 2014
Photo by Raquel Baranow / Flickr

Lift your glasses. Let's pay some respect to water. There are more than 100 craft breweries in San Diego County that use water to make beer, which in turn creates jobs. Agua is the primary ingredient in a Margarita, chicken soup and a bubble bath. The average adult human body is 60 percent water. More than 70 percent of the earth's surface is covered by water.

But it's a life-lending liquid we've taken lightly, and for granted. Now that it's scarce in San Diego and most parts of California, we're running around like chickens with our heads cut off. Or, more aptly, we're flailing around like garden hoses with our nozzles unscrewed.

Conservation polarization abounds. Sides have been taken, and we water balloon each other over whose fault this is. Problem solving doesn't come from fist waving, though. Solutions come from working hand-in-hand.

Right now, it's the farmers in one corner of the ring. In California, agriculture accounts for 80 percent of water usage. The farmers using the most water sow the ingredient that differentiates an Almond Joy from a Mounds candy bar. Some web trolls would opine that almond farmers ought to be hung by their nuts. Ah, sweet mob mentality. California farm owners, however, have substantial political clout. Their water rights were first-come, first-served. And the farm lobbyists are not giving upsies.

In the other corner are those calling on residents to cut back usage, and for the utilities and government bodies to step in and regulate rates and mandate water restrictions. There are reasoned commentators noting that current price structure for water service does not reward homeowners who traded in rose bushes for succulents and rock gardens. And there's no incentive for cliff-side La Jolla manse dwellers to stop overfilling the Olympic-sized pool or watering the cobblestone driveway.

Boom. California Gov. Jerry Brown's across-the-board water-reduction mandates are a sad fact of life, a warning shot of more to come and a harbinger that Balboa Park and the state's green spaces could get browner before they ever go back to being rainbow-colored. Gov. Brown's new regulations give local governments cover to implement their own unpopular water-use programs. San Diegans have already decreased usage over the past few years. Therefore, overspending on consultants by the city of San Diego on a drought-awareness media campaign would be money poorly spent.

And San Diego creating a division of water cops is a horrible idea. Nobody wants to be brushing their teeth in the bathroom with a guy in a black suit and mirrored sunglasses standing behind them, pen and ticket book in hand.

The time is nigh for a grass roots water-conservation movement to bubble up. Conserve because you care. If you don't turn off the faucet while brushing your teeth, you really are part of the problem. Don't be a drip. Likewise, farmers using flood-irrigation techniques to water their fields need to investigate more innovative management techniques. Pump up the effort.

Blame climate change. Curse population growth. Feel free to do a rain dance in Anza Borrego Desert State Park, but wrap your head around the notion that water management is now a modern way of life.

Too many San Diegans have to be shown aerial photos of Lake Mead at 45-percent capacity to be jolted into this realization. Educate yourself. Quiz your friends on the subject of acre-feet.

Does anyone—outside seven media pundits and the brass at the San Diego County Water Authority—know what an acre-foot is? Yes, it was grandpa's nickname for the goiter in his big toe. But an acre-foot is an archaic unit of measure that denotes the volume required to cover an acre of land a foot deep in water. One acre-foot equals 286,000 gallons, which is about how much one or two family homes (with lawns) use per year. Put your foot down and reduce your acre footage.

Set to open later this year is the billion-dollar Carlsbad Desalination Project. Reverse osmosis to extract salt water is only part of a solution, and needs to be strictly regulated to prevent environmental damage to the Pacific Ocean. But unless the nimbus clouds visit more often, and we get creative with rainwater storage and distribution, the next steps will be tighter regulation and higher rates. Across-the-board conservation is the way to halt the government intervention into natural-resource management that inevitably brings with it cronyism and pocket lining.

Discourse that doesn't end in finger pointing can be the norm.

The better discussion: How can Big Agriculture AND everybody living on Main Street pitch in to keep water glasses more than half full?


Write to rond@sdcitybeat.com.

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