Water is a necessity; any bumpkin can tell you as much. Great civilizations will always be found along water routes or adjacent to the sea, where precipitation is frequent, water is ample and ships can bring freight to port. In Southern California, naturally a dry climate becoming drier with every stab of climate demolition, the question of water is essential. Many of the small rural cities and towns of the mid-1800’s flourished only after initial settlers took the time to build flumes or diversions, bringing a source of fresh water down from melting snowpack in the mountains. Settlements sprouted near freshwater springs, creeks and tributaries from the sea. Stretches of uninhabited desert on California’s southernmost points, and traces of ghost towns left to lie fallow when the silver and water were gone, tell the tale.
As of Nov. 26, 2014, 80% of California has been in an extreme drought. “I know, I know,” you say, “I received my booklet of instructions about when to water my lawn, every Tuesday and Thursday, I understand. I’m pissed about my prized tomato plants. The news has been harping about it for months, everything is going to hell in a hand basket.”
With such dramatic resource scarcity in mind, conservation should be a requirement, though realistically, many will not think about changing their daily habits until the fiscal impact makes them bend. The impacts have already started. Water exceptions that allowed farmers to write off a bit of expense have disappeared. Cherry and peach trees lay rotting and untended in overgrown and fallow orchards, with water bills piled on farmer’s tables. It’s the small mom-and-pop places that will dry up first; not the larger-scale operations that have the money.
This raises one social, sentimental, fundamental question: Who has a claim to that golden necessity that no one can live without?
Some would say, “Stupid question, water belongs to everyone. Water should be provided, no matter what. As long as there are functioning pipes, there should be the wet stuff flowing through.” But this view is naïve. Unless you collect, filter, purify, test and pump in your water (You probably do not, unless you are a prepper and spend time camouflaged in ghillie suits, at which point I would like to commend your efforts). While perhaps an injustice, water does not belong to everyone.
It is fundamentally a commodity—a very essential commodity—just like Monopoly and the Pit card game taught you in elementary school. City water districts, government representatives, utility commissions and private interests all have their hand in the pot. They have the final say in its use, price and distribution.
Residents of Detroit recently felt the effects of a regulated water market when the city made a decision to turn off the tap on residents who were behind on paying their water bills. Residents were forced to haul water from sympathizer’s homes and businesses to stock up. At the time the taps were turned off, 27,000 were directly impacted.
In a country where non-profits raise money for well projects in foreign countries, in which we cart in clean water and supplies to disaster-stricken zones, the realities of water management begs the question: how can the U.S. do this to their own citizens? The UN had similar thoughts. The many protesters, and many affected, were appalled. They marched in the streets with signs proclaiming “Our Water, Our Right” and “Water is a Human Right.” Water is a human necessity, but is it a right?
How wonderful it would be if water was abundant, and purifying systems were also not tax-payer and consumer dependent. The reality is a pipe dream, especially in a state in which that precious commodity is literally drying up. Any solid economist will tell you, when a commodity shrinks, the price will rise.
Residents of East Porterville know how it feels to actually run out of water. As of August 2014, the wells ran dry, compliments of drought.
Whether from monetary means, or simply because the bottom of the wells have been scraped, no water is a terrifying trial to face. Water is a commodity that can be bought, sold and traded. It can be exhausted and is difficult to replenish. The reality is water is no longer a human right.
There is some positivity in this statement. It’s time for people to realize that water is not an entitlement, and time to become active on the consumer end. It is time to let the grass die, time to buy eco-friendly soap and use bathwater to water trees, time to turn off the tap when you brush your teeth. It is time to make the tiny changes. People will have to realize that the water districts are not kidding with these regulations—they will charge customers up the wazoo with fines, and if you do not make the bills, you may end up carting water in plastic milk jugs from the corner. People tend to want to separate the humanitarian from the fiscal. Feel-good protests and endeavors stir the soul, but sometimes, there simply is no more money in the city coffers, or water in the wells. It is the siren call to step it up, California!