There are two things going on here. The first is that Governor Newsom and his water officials don’t have the pull to get good response to a public call for conservation. The second is that the burdening the public with behavior changes to save water has always been a symptom of failure. We should never have been proud that we made people’s lives harder in the course of getting through a drought.
Look. I don’t pretend that most people in California follow water, and I don’t expect that they are reacting to his delayed actions on drought the way I am. I don’t imagine Uber drivers exclaiming “The nerve of that man! Telling me to fix my dripping faucet after he vetoed SB1 in 2019!!!! Sheer gall, I tell you!”. I don’t think anyone besides me is reacting at that level. But I do think that the public feels no strong attachment to Governor Fingerguns and won’t go to much effort for him on the basis of affection. On water specifically, if they vaguely follow the news, they’ll know he’s made of … nothing. He fired the effective Chair of the State Board and replaced her with a pleasant fellow who shows no urgency. His top executives cannot state a clear goal. The Water Resilience Portfolio is some weak-ass “keep doing what you’re doing” document. Even the name of it is weak sauce. I wasn’t impressed by the Water Action Plan, but the name isn’t nearly as boring as Water Resilience Portfolio.
Look at the top takeaway on water supply in the Water Resilience Portfolio (pg 13):
Key insights from assessing the current health of California’s natural systems:
» Improved understanding is needed about the amount of water that must stay in rivers and streams to protect fish, wildlife, habitat, and water quality, and further actions are needed to support the availability of water for these needs.
Are you fucking kidding me? This wishy-washy passive voice, qualified bullshit? We need understanding, not actual water? Or, um, support for the availability of water? Again, I don’t think the broad public knows this level of detail and I don’t think that’s why they aren’t conserving. But there isn’t any good, strong core to the Newsom Administration on water and they do sense that. They can sense that there’s nothing there, and that Newsom doesn’t have the credibility or connection to ask Californians to conserve.
That’s the first problem. The second problem is that water conservation that requires behavioral changes is a small ongoing burden on people’s lives. Last drought, people had the capacity to do that. People I respect said that it was altruistic and not a problem, and I reluctantly went along with that even though I had doubts. I had doubts that it could last. I firmly believe the layering of small ongoing burdens distinctly worsens our quality of life. Now, in the pandemic, asking for behavior changes is just plainly a limited strategy that isn’t always available. Asking people who are managing the much greater burdens of All The Pandemic Things to please also keep a bucket in their shower? You are out of your fucking mind. That capacity is already taken by “where is my kid’s clean mask?”. It is not available for water conservation, even in a drought.
The solutions are systemic. They will be shifting substantial water from ag to urban and environmental use. They will be written into building codes and fixed into new landscaping. They aren’t “hope that the governor can call on people to do annoying daily things”. That approach is failing.