I had occasion to watch some area-of-origin advocates last week and came away unimpressed. Area-of-origin is code for Northern California, and it really means ‘DON’T TAKE OUR WATER’. It is named for the doctrine that the regions where water originates shouldn’t be harmed by projects moving (excess) water away. I have some sympathy for that; the Owens Valley lakebed shows what can happen to the area of origin in the absence of any protections. But the advocates I saw last week are arguing against water conservation for themselves on the basis that they have plenty. It made me want to reach for some harsh adjectives.
Twenty by Twentytwenty is the Governor’s policy on water conservation that is likely to be turned into legislation sometime soon. So far as I know, the goal is arbitrary, picked primarily for the sound of it. Reduce urban per capita water use by 20 percent by the year 2020. But it isn’t a bad goal, neither trivial nor overambitious, so why not go with a catchy phrase. The big problem is that not all cities in the state use the same amount of water. Some have been conserving for years; reducing their per capita water use by 20% would mean changing their lifestyle or cutting something they value (they use, roughly, 110ish gallons per household per day). Others are still shamefully profligate and drinking quality water runs down their gutters (more like 380 gallons per person per day). The civil servants tasked with 20 x twenty20 wrote a draft report suggesting that the regions who use more because they are wastrels (my phrasing) should conserve more than regions who have been tightening down on water for decades (mostly southern California and the central coast).
The prospect of Twenty by 20XX becoming law has got people like Placer County Water Agency campaigning against it. My jaw dropped to hear people say, out loud, in public, that they don’t want to conserve if it only goes to help other people, that they think they should always have the privilege to waste their water. I am embarrassed for them. However, if they are already willing to sound like narcissistic five-year-olds in public, they must have already rationalized and accepted the arguments that they have plenty, and that should exempt them from having to do anything for people downstream, who are presumably different and not-them. I wonder where they stood on the question of the Bay Area and Smog Check II.
Back in the turn of the century, people living in the Bay Area had weaker Smog Check requirements than the rest of the state. The wind blew fresh off the ocean each night; because their air basin was always clean, they didn’t have to do smog checks as frequently or maintain their cars as much as everywhere else in California. This was nice for them. Turns out, though, that their pollutants were blowing eastward and getting pinned against the mountains. You know, like in Placer County. Ozones from the Bay Area were weakening pine trees, raising the fire danger in the area-of-origin mountain counties. The legislature stepped in, holding people in the Bay Area to the same Smog Check standards as the rest of the state, even though people in the Bay Area breathe clean air.
Look, Mountain Counties. People in San Francisco have to take their cars to get smogged twice as often for your sake. For the same amount of trouble, you could adjust your fucking sprinklers and switch out your toilets. For the cost of their additional car maintainance, you could buy a low water using washing machine. You wouldn’t want to go backward, would you? To all those smoggy days in the foothills? The law was an improvement, right? Twenty x XXtwenty will be too, overall.
Folks, we are in an system, connected by pipes and law and flows of water, air and energy. We are too far intertwined to pull up the drawbridges around your region, even if you do have the water rights to fill the moat. Please, come out and play with the rest of the state.
If my fervent plea doesn’t reach them, my second thought was to fund firefighting in inverse proportion to per capita water use.