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Water Policy in California

May 09, 1985

Your editorial (April 30), "Melting Snows, Melting Hearts," holds out hope that the water-rich areas of our state are burgeoning with hearts suddenly grown warm and willing to share their wealth with those of us less fortunate. This was cheering, but I remain skeptical.

I have spent 40 years in traveling the West and found a pervasive attitude that Southern Californians are profligate and uncaring, selfish to the point where we have grasped from those whose water supplies were plentiful, and from those who were not so blessed, such as Arizona.

Twenty-five years ago the owner of a large chain of Arizona service stations often remarked to acquaintances that he wanted to put a sign in his restrooms: "Please flush the toilet, Los Angeles needs water." If anything, the feeling in Northern California was even stronger, and as populations have exploded throughout the West there was no reason for a change of heart.

If one has occurred, and I don't like to question the motives of those gentlemen up north, it might well be because elsewhere it was always recognized that as southern water supplies increased the population growth to use it was a sure result. So, since Northern California particularly has begun to see the face of that beautiful area change as the people-tide moves north, if we are given water to help bring or keep the multitudes here, it might be considered a worth-while trade-off.

I also question how well in touch you are when you describe Southern Californians as "smarting over the defeat of the Peripheral Canal in the 1982 election." I don't believe the electorate here knew then, knows now, what the planned canal is to accomplish or where it is to be built. I was up North shortly before that election and found people knowledgeable about it and prepared to defeat it; I saw bumper stickers there urging its defeat, not too complimentary to our needs here. The only time I encountered any activity in the Southland concerning the measure was from a group of environmentalists pressing for "No" votes.

And I think therein lies the crux of the whole matter. Most people, and I mean a large majority of them, in Southern California, are completely insensitive to our water needs. Staying tuned to the media--and I don't except The Times--one easily encounters the resentment to even our normal amount of rainfall. Not that it would go far in easing our problems, but I see it as symptomatic. Just give us another day of sunshine, is the plea, tomorrow we can play golf or tennis, or jog. If we are looked upon elsewhere as the world's greatest hedonistic society, there is a strong case for it.

Where the solutions lie I don't think anybody knows at this time. We are all guilty of a peculiar kind of indulgence in spending something we don't have. If you don't believe that, drive around this semi-desert and revel in its lushness.

HENRY L. SCHARFF

Thousand Oaks

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