Somebody needs to just say this. The people and politicians of California have for generations insisted upon their right to flagrantly wasteful water policies/behaviors. They’ve ignored common sense, reason, data, weather, and every marker possible for the finite nature of the liquid upon which human life depends. They still water streets and sidewalks and yards and parks and golf courses and resorts and alfalfa fields in the desert with abandon. They still think it their god-given right to grow the crops of the tropics in semi-arid or outright arid plains. So this week’s leaderly howls of a sudden drought “emergency” seem more than a little off-planet. And utterly disingenuous.
Some of us—many of my neighbors out in the Mojave, for instance—shifted our consumption of water a long time ago. I changed how I shower and do dishes within four days of first entering this state 28 years ago, for example. I wouldn’t put a plug of grass in here if my life depended on it. And I never wash a vehicle. But we can’t drive a car to a town without crossing over-irrigated roadways, can’t walk on a sidewalk that hasn’t been recently sprinkled, can’t find many grand fields without huge-armed sprayers marching to the horizons, can’t find many places where city-folk and their DWPs haven’t already looked into stealing what little water we actually still have. (Orange County’s pushing hard to do precisely that from an aquifer a little north of where I sit right now.) Why is it that so many won’t yield? Why are so many people so willing to pretend that there are no consequences whatsoever to their choices? Why?
I am not yet a full-time denizen of the state of California, though this is not for lack of trying. The state is hostile to small businesses, its economy feeds the fakes and poseurs first and last and often in-between, resources are divvied up with startling inequality on purpose, and yet I find in the far reaches of the Mojave Desert some of the most decent people I have ever known. Out here most of us have learned to make do on just enough water, no more. If we are ever to make it as a species, we will have to learn to do this across many boards and rejoice in our proven capacity to meet a challenge with wit and the good sense to say “Enough!” before we are forced to call calf-rope. So I wish to live here permanently. With excellent cause.
I am uneasy, however, about the way the political leaders of this land continue to behave on serious issues like water, for it spells doom for this rural desert that gave up citified pretenses long, long ago. Given the urban and agricultural areas’ track records on un-emergencified water, I fear we may be left without ours so that their streets, their golf courses, their yards, their wasteful fields can continue to be watered on schedule. The public statements this week on the “unprecedented drought emergency” in this state—and the utter lack of civic ownership of the problem—are discomfiting, to say the least.
Emergency thinking on problems this huge is like embarking on an ocean in a teacup and presuming one’s self sufficiently vesseled. As I watch politicians scurrying around to raise the battle cry for which color teacup they are going to captain, I cannot help but wonder: does humanity have the gumption or intelligence to face down the mauling forces of uber-perverted capitalism? Can we turn anything around from our teacups? For the sake of the desert I already call home in every cell of my being, I pray so. I surely do.