Unconnected drought musings

People are obsessed with warm-up water.  Water professionals with decades of experience will spend fifteen minutes of limited meeting time discussing their personal warm-up water strategies.  If you mention that you work in water, laypeople will talk incessantly about their warm-up water and their bucket and getting a tankless system but what about one of them pumps you can put on your faucet?  I believe that if Felicia Marcus commissioned three new dams, brought dual plumbing to every house in this state, reformed water rights and carried every last salmon to the sea in her arms, people would believe she had really handled the drought on the day she addressed warm-up water.

I do appreciate that people will go to the trouble to carry warm-up water to their roses during a dry year.  But I believe the practice is closer to prayer or ritual than a solution.  If warm-up water calls for solution, it should be part of the building code and permanently fixed by distributed infrastructure.  When human beings are physically carrying water, we have lost our hold on modernity.


I had a nightmare over the weekend that we would have two wet years and then four more dry years.  Sometimes I think I am one of a handful of people who remember the 2006-2009 drought, which was clearly wiped from public memory by two wet years.  What if we keep getting to this point, on the brink of real change, every six years?  Am I doomed to keep watching the same part of the cycle and keep saying the same things as we reach the same point every six years?

(Yes, of course I want a wet year for the creatures and people who really are hurting in this drought.  But spare a thought for my pain, friends.)


That said, I think we have made some real progress in this drought.  We have nearly beat to death the stupid inane pointless debate over whether ag uses “40% or 80%”.  If you are talking developed water, 80%.  If you are talking all water that we track, 40%.  I never see reporters mis-use that any more, so that’s real good progress.

Maybe the next step for this drought is to get people to understand that curtailing water use in accordance with appropriative rights is not a threat to the water right.  That’s using the water right for what it is for!  Curtailing water based on seniority is a threat to this year’s use of water, but the water right is still nestled lovingly in the arms of the rightholder, safe and secure, respected by the State Board.  My calling for water rights to be designed afresh by an initiative is a threat to the water right.


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4 responses to “Unconnected drought musings

  1. Uti

    You’re not alone in your nightmare that as soon as the the news media starts screaming about a flood here or a mudslide there from an El Niño winter or cheering the first time a reservoir spills over for the cameras that the momentum for real changes will be lost and we’ll be doomed like Sisyphus to keep rolling the boulder up the mountain only to see it roll down again.

  2. jrfleck

    I am rethinking things like “warmup water.” I’m having an ongoing conversation with an environmental/ecological psychologist who’s helping me think through the crazy behavioral stuff we actually do. She’s given me a stack of reading that talks in part about the way the arrow of change points from behavior toward attitude, rather than attitude toward behavior. I still tend to think you’re right about all this, that attention to meaningless feel good like warmup water and my rain barrels distracts from the real issues. But I’m entertaining the idea that behaviors that are meaningless in terms of actual water math may nevertheless have some benefit in the behavior->attitude feedback loop.

    Plus, I *really* love my rain barrels. So much fun, playing with guilt free water.

  3. You are absolutely correct that unless we undertake fundamental structural change we will continue the insanity of boom/bust water cycles, with an ultimate depletion of groundwater reserves the inevitable outcome. But the only way to fundamental structural change is via such a long-term drought that enough people are motivated to oppose entrenched political power.

  4. Steve Bloom

    “Behavior toward attitude” is long-established, although I wouldn’t know when it got formalized. I used it in 1989 as the guiding principle for writing Alameda County’s (CA) groundbreaking recycling law. Behaviors that are visible to neighbors/peers are especially important so that social pressure can kick in.

    I don’t do warm-up water since living in an apartment I don’t have much to use it on, but do use dishwater. A plus is that the soap and debris make for a reasonable fertilizer.