Waking Up to Water

I’ve really been enjoying this bright November of golden leaves & comfy old scarves, but I can’t recall ever being so happy to hear the rain as I did upon waking up yesterday morning…not the usual drippy harbor fog kind (which I usually love too), but real run-off-in-the-streets sort of rain.

The day before, anticipation of rain was the main topic of casual conversation at the grocery store, in the doctor’s office, on my walk down the street: do you feel it coming? we really need it!  wow, this drought is scary, my trees are really drooping.  what’s going to happen with the desalination proposal? yes, yes! yes mine too, I don’t know.

I’m a member of the Santa Cruz City Water Commission in the one seat reserved for a representative of non-City residents who are Water District customers.  Ergo, I’m probably thinking about rain more than most.  As things warm up on the home planet, I think more of us are finally waking up to water. There’s nothing more fundamental to how life happens on earth than the big W – salinated or not, too much or too little. 

After over 20 years of intensely studying our regional water supply situation, the proposed joint City & next-door Soquel Creek Water District regional seawater desalination project was progressing as a long-term approach to future demand & anticipated drought.  Three months ago however, sensing mounting opposition from parts of our so-called environmentalist sector, the Mayor & City Manger turned off the desal spigot; coincidentally or not, the Water Department director of 27 years retired a month later.  We’re now embarking on a new community water discussion which will no doubt demonstrate the virtues & foibles of how folks in this small but passionate burgh on California’s (dry) central coast debate what we envision for our future.

A year ago I posted here about water & desalination.  It seems to me that in this part of the world, humans are pretty clueless about the luxury of having fresh water on demand. What I’m learning in this new W commissioner role is that similar to most challenges on our ever-changing planet, there’s no cheap, easy answer.  As far as I know, no one disagrees that here in geographically-isolated Santa Cruz County we’ll continue to experience both severe surface water shortages & severe overdraft of groundwater resources into the future…& we can’t fall back on importing water from Sierra Nevada mountains like our San Francisco friends to the north.  It’s what to do about it that gets us riled up.

One thing I learned from my transportation work (which is a drastically simpler problem in many respects) & also from being a parent (which isn’t), is that it makes sense to have a variety of tools in the toolbox: if one approach isn’t reliable or breaks down too often, there’s another one (or more) available to fill in.  A word we used a lot in the transportation arena is ‘robust’, & it’s a good word to keep in mind in this upcoming W conversation.

In the meantime, although Santa Cruz County has nearly the lowest per-capita water use in California, I’ll keep switching our kitchen faucet to the lower water spray setting, I’m replacing a quaint but not-very-efficient toilet, & I’m hoping for a washer rebate program in the upcoming round of new water conservation measures.  I get annoyed when I see farmers watering their fields mid-day or a dysfunctional hydrant gushing for (seemingly) hours – it just doesn’t seem fair.  But we really are all in this together, & imho, our proposed solutions need to reflect serious pragmatism as well as the rampant idealism for which we are famous.

Here’s hoping that we’ll actually have mud to slosh around in as we muddle along with this community process.

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2 Responses to Waking Up to Water

  1. Donna Maurillo says:

    Water is becoming a huge global issue. The Chinese have stated that when they run out of water, they’re coming for ours. As the sea level rises, we will have more and more brackish water intrusion along our coastlines… which means less land will be available for crops. That is, vegetables do not grow in salt water. Another part of the problem is that we are digging deeper for groundwater. And that, too, pulls salt water in from the oceans to fill the gap.

    We can’t depend on snow runoff or glacial runoff like we used to. I remember plenty of snow in the northern part of New York State, where I grew up. Winters were brutal, and snowfall was about 150 inches per year. Now, my sister tells me, they’re lucky to have much snow anymore. It becomes a non-stoppable cycle, too, because as the snow and glaciers melt, there is nothing to reflect the sun’s heat back into the atmosphere. So the ground is warming up even faster.

    I predict that it won’t be long before water becomes more precious than oil and gas. Just as in the desert, those who own the watering holes will become kings.

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