June 8 2015 06:19 PM

Working stiffs reduce, the rich get the rebates

Aaryn Belfer

Depending on which of the plentiful news articles you're currently reading about the California drought, San Diegans have either been really great at conserving water or not so great at conserving water. There are myriad numbers being tossed around; percentages and statistics and acre-feet amounts and gallons-used-per-household and Henny Penny, the sky is definitely falling! There is no question things are dire.

But like a potential stadium for the Chargers—please, just go to Carson already and leave us be, you bullies—the numbers of who's reduced their water usage and by how much keep changing. It's tough to know what is real. 

In April 2014, for instance, we working stiffs (those of us doing the most and who will shoulder the heaviest burden when rates go up and fines are handed out) seemed to be knocking back our usage in a conscientious manner. Data from this past April, however, seems to indicate we're not doing the bang-up job we might have thought. Our collective goal last year was a 20-percent reduction, yet despite restrictions, we didn't come close to our target even as we did fewer loads of laundry and let our lawns go brown and literally left our cars in the dust. As of this month, the entire state has a mandated goal of 25-percent less usage. Which is nice and all, but if we couldn't make the lesser benchmark, why would we think we could make this one?

Funny, but the No Child Left Behind mandate of 100-percent proficiency by 2014 comes to mind right now. That was hugely successful, huh?

Like most people I know, I've become extremely conscious about my family's water use. We've got a bucket in our shower to collect pre-heated water; we've cut back on our meat consumption; we've turned off our sprinklers for months at a time; and we're installing water-saving appliances during our remodel. Conservation has become a regular topic around the dinner table, and we try to present it in a serious way while not frightening the literal thinker in the house, who equates "drought" to "we're all gonna die."  

Instead, we conduct Charlie Brown Teacher-style lectures in hope of creating a change in thinking. Our efforts were confirmed recently when we drove onto the grounds of the La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club where our daughter regularly has matches. She was aghast, for the first time, at the extravagant fountain and the sprawling green lawn surrounding it. "What the heck, Mama?!?" Ruby said, breathless. "How can they have all that water just running? How can they have green grass?" 

And that right there is the 325,851 gallons-per-acre-foot question. 

Ruby's exasperation underscored my growing resentment of being told to take "Navy showers" (uh, fuck that) and spy on my neighbors (fuck that, too). Thanks to a new fandangled app, it's easier than ever to be a vigilante water cop. Just hit send of the quick pic of the sprinkler runoff and street address, and booyah! You can totally stick it to the Hatfields next door. What a safe, anonymous, non-violent way to emulate George Zimmerman and root out the water thugs among us. 

While broadcasting from San Diego last week, Robin Young of NPR's Here & Now interviewed a couple in Rancho Santa Fe—where water usage by the entitled has gone up by 9 percent in the last couple of years—about the process of replacing what Young reported to be their massive and massively beautiful English-style garden with a morally responsible one. Good on them. They're lucky to have the means to make such changes. 

But it's worth noting that subsidies and rebates designed to help those of us who aren't so fortunate are turning out to be a regressive tax benefiting those who don't need to be benefitted. According to Voice of San Diego, "[a]bout half the rebate money is going to large commercial landscaping projects that cost $100,000 or more. A country club in Ventura County, for example, is seeking $4 million in rebates" from the water authority there. Furthermore, Voice reports, one residential customer in the Las Virgenes Municipal Water District "received a $35,000 rebate check." Seriously. It will be no surprise if the stupid Chargers are successful in obtaining their public welfare.

And in yet another parallel universe, the city of San Diego increased its water usage by 19 percent last year. Did the city not get the memo? It said decrease. Perhaps the liberal watering of fairways with drinking water at Balboa Park and Mission Bay golf courses had something to do with that Opposite World scenario. Morgan Cook at the San Diego Union-Tribune noted that this is "5 million gallons more than the city used on those courses during the same 10 months last year, and 15 million gallons more than in 2013."

And none of this gets to corporations and frackers and oil drillers and farmers. All these entities are contributing to the problem and all should be held accountable. The burden of responsibility cannot just be on the everyday citizen, who seems to be a whole lot more willing to cut back than some of the biggest offenders, but who is nevertheless going to say hell yes to long...hot...showers. 

Email Aaryn Belfer. Aaryn blogs at aarynbelfer.com and you can follow her on Twitter @aarynb.


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