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Musings on Water Rationing and Raises

March 21, 1991

As we begin receiving official notices in the mail regarding the start of mandatory water rationing, it makes me think back on how we got to this state of affairs.

It has been clear to many longtime residents, including myself, that California winters have been in a drying trend for at least the last 15 years. The fact that so little has been done to encourage water conservation both in agriculture and among homeowners, while we have continued to encourage growth and development in this arid region, is a larger crime than the water wasting which many residents are just now trying to reduce.

The lack of leadership, and planning, by the water districts and water resources boards in this state has been appalling. Now we are in the fifth year of a drought, a serious situation indeed, and instead of having planned for a smooth transition we are being asked to change our habits drastically almost overnight.

Our flood control channel building was largely planned in the 1930s, when this region had many wet winters, and I don't believe we have ever rethought the "wisdom" of swiftly racing the runoff produced by rains to the sea. Santa Barbara has been dealing with a drought crisis for two or three years now, but we still have failed to make meaningful progress in re-managing the water that we do have.

With reservoirs less than one-third full, it seems to me we ought to try and develop some means of diverting storm runoff into some storage or treatment facility. This has to be cheaper than desalinating seawater, another prospect we must consider on the longer term. Additionally, the capability to recycle "gray water" must be developed, and should have a bright future in landscape maintenance.

Now the severity of the restrictions under which residents and agriculture will be placed varies widely from week to week, and discussion to discussion. With the crisis at hand, our leaders seem in varying states of confusion and panic. We need to cut 10% . . . no 20% . . . no 50% . . . agricultural water deliveries by 90%. . . . Will growers be forced to let millions of dollars worth of mature fruit and nut trees die for lack of water while other growers will still be able to plant water-inefficient annual crops? Will some families be unable to flush toilets while others still fill their swimming pools?

We have borrowed from future water supplies in the same way our government uses deficit spending to borrow from future income, so that we can live beyond our means today. In both cases we have allowed our leaders to under-manage, and under-plan, deferring necessity until we have arrived at crises of our own creation.


San Gabriel

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