When I wrote this article at the beginning of March, 2011, there was talk of a drought continuing in the state of California. Now, ironically, there is talk of a surplus. In fact, snow sensors, which measure the snow pack in the Sierras, have confirmed that we are at or above pre-drought level as measured by the yearly average snow melt taken each April 1st. However, as the wet winter continued, there were rumors that Governor Brown would declare the end of the drought, thus removing the restrictions on everything from agricultural irrigation to residential lawn watering. On March 29, 2011, Gov. Brown, issued a statement ending drought status but urged Californians to continue to conserve. He said, “While this season’s storms have lifted us out of the drought, it’s critical that Californians continue to watch their water use. Drought or no drought, demand for water in California always outstrips supply. Continued conservation is key.” But that's not how it started for me....
The water at work will turn from scorching hot to tepid in about five minutes. I was daydreaming, letting the water swirl into the sink. I occasionally rinsed off a plate or polished a utensil but mainly just let the water flow. The water was slowly cooling down, I was just about to turn it off to let it reheat when a ball of fury poked her head around the frame of the door and asked, "What are you doing? Don't you know that the water you are wasting will be gone forever? Sure, it will be mixed with sewage and poured into the Bay but it will no longer be that pristine mountain melt that we are used to.">p> In email Shirley responds: “That's some very creative dialog you've given me. I swear, all I remember from that incident is grunting and struggling to get out of your hug (the first and last time I will ever do THAT) so I could reach the tap and turn it off. Though I have to say, I like being called “a ball of fury!” You make me sound so tough!”
Whatever, you get the point...,
One thing was clear: she was a ball of fury half my size, putting water conservation on the agenda—a topic that has as many heads as hydra with very strange bedfellows. When you see environmentalists and fisherman stacked together on one side and farmers and lawn owners on the other, it is a killing field for ideas and compromise.
Shirley edits films for a living. She moves ideas around in all of their complexity—she knows how to dig deep into things and simplify the complex. Since that day, when I see Shirley I let her know that she is still stuck in my head. It is hard to rotate a faucet fixture without thinking of her principled water stance. I find myself washing my dishes in an orderly fashion, closing off the shower more quickly, and setting the washing machine to the shortest cycle possible. When I idle around the faucet, sink, or shower, I cannot turn away.
YOU need to get Shirley in your head! I can see a cartoon character sticker placed by any source of water, with Shirley turning off the faucet... any takers? But after all, this is what Shirley has been talking about. The danger now may shift to floods, which are part of the boom and bust nature of California’s continuing battle with its water infrastructure. Draw your own conclusion. At minimum, we need to understand the complex nature of water management in the U.S. in general, and in particular, the state of California, which is ranked #1 in population and #1 in GDP. One primary area of concern is looking at the crumbling infrastructure of the levees, damns, and dikes that transport and divert our water supply. We must mitigate the potential for our water supply to be reduced to a raging flood in an earthquake. It has been said that a water catastrophe in California could potentially dwarf the aftermath of Katrina.
We need to also take a serious look at the contamination of our groundwater supply caused by agricultural runoff and reckless industrial practices.
We all can do a little to help, we can reduce the amount of water we waste, we can follow bills in the state and national legislature that specifically target water issues. We can learn from the positive and negative examples of water conservancy, the reclamation of rivers, aquifers, and groundwater supplies. With the onset of global warming— the shifting weather patterns that cause freezing in one area and droughts in another— we are continually chasing the effects of mother nature. For example, changes are already beginning to sweep low-lying areas like Bangladesh and thousands of miles of sea coast off the map. With all of these catastrophes in the making we are already past the point where we need to alter our relationship to the entire ecosystem. We need to get smart quickly and not simply say that we can't have an effect. We can and we must. The assessment of California's drought status changes on each trip of the climatologists to the the Sierra snow pack.
However, the unceasing cycle of droughts and dam busting years continues unabated. The groundwater table is being slowly depleted and our farmers claim they can no longer irrigate their land. A macabre dance spirals, wisps of resources and use. This can no longer exist in the realm of potential “futures.” We have arrived at a tipping point where we trade floods in the winter and spring for wildfires in the fall and winter. This is truly a topic of urgency and substance. This is also a national emergency spurred on by climate change and global warming.
(Copyright 2011, Shirley Gutierrez, All Rights Reserved)
On Feb 8, 2011, at 10:29 AM, Shirley Gutierrez wrote:
Greetings, Family and Friends! Mark Twain famously remarked. “Everyone talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.” While I can't do anything about this dry spell which is threatening our water table, I've decided I can do something to raise consciousness about the lack of rainfall and the need for water conservation. This morning, I sat down and wrote a letter to the Chronicle editor asking that the paper publish more information about the dry spell and the fact that we are now below our seasonal rainfall average. It’s extremely unlikely that my letter will be published, as they receive hundreds of submissions per day, but hell! This is the Internet age! Who needs the letters column in order to talk to their community? I understand that all of you are very eco-aware folk who are very careful with resources. This letter is not intended as a lecture or reprimand, just a loving reminder to think about every precious drop you use of the life giving fluid on which we all depend. Consumer confidence about water NEVER makes sense in California. Also, if anyone in your circle needs the reminder more than you do, please forward the email on. Warm weather makes lots of people happy, and I think it's hard to divert our attention from the natural enjoyment of these sunny days to the unpleasant fact that they constitute a continuing danger to us all. In short, even the best of us can forget to be careful with water usage. Many thanks for your patience and attention to my words. The Chronicle letter is pasted in below.
The warm, unseasonable dry spell continues in California, and many of its residents seem to be enjoying it. However, many of us also understand that the absence of rain is a real danger to our water table, and thus to the health of the state overall. People seem to forget that water doesn't really come from the tap, or from little bottles purchased from the supermarket; it comes from the climate systems that bring us the rain and snow we need to survive, so we have water to drink, to bathe in, to irrigate our fields with, and to keep our rivers alive and capable of supporting important fish species. Buried in the lower right hand corner of the Chronicle weather page is a table that shows our seasonal rainfall, and it indicates that we are now starting to fall behind our seasonal average. The early season punch from La Nina fueled rainstorms has gotten the rainy season off to a good start, but with every passing day of “lovely” weather, our situation grows more perilous. Panicking about the absence of rain is clearly not useful. Making a personal plan for conserving water on a daily basis is, and media outlets like the Chronicle can help. Now is the time for the paper to start publishing front-page articles about the unseasonable weather pattern and the need for conservation. Together, we can reduce our water needs, and help keep our state’s economy and eco-systems healthy.
Walnut Creek, California
SOME LINKS: • Lots of links to water conservation can be found here: • Save Water - Bay Area Water Rationing and Water Conservation • California Water Crises • California Water Woes Worsen • California Water Resources