OUR VIEW

Our View: Water rules and fines will help, but attitudes must change

July 10, 2014 

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A Modesto resident waters their yard during the restricted time of noon to 7 p.m. June 3.

ANDY ALFARO — aalfaro@modbee.com

We hope the State Water Resources Control Board affirms all the staff recommendations for emergency urban water cutbacks outlined Wednesday – restrictions and fines on excessive landscape watering, running hoses and rinsing off sidewalks. Such rules are reasonable and doable.

They’re also debatable in how much good they’ll do.

If fining scofflaws helps the state conserve an additional 500,000 acre-feet, it’s worth a try. But we believe most Californians are already taking such measures, along with many others we learned a generation ago – rules about when to flush, taking shallower baths, conserving gray water in buckets, putting bricks in toilet tanks, etc. We know the drill.

More important, we think, is changing attitudes. The first thing we should set aside is that tired old tenet of Northern Californian faith that Angelenos steal our water then waste it, filling fancy swimming pools, watering desert golf courses and hosing down sidewalks. True once, not so much now.

Los Angeles does take a big gulp from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta each year, but it’s only about a quarter of what farmers in the San Joaquin Valley use. And when L.A. gets that water, it knows how to hold onto it. Per capita water use there has fallen 20 percent in just the last four years. And the the Metropolitan Water District, the world’s largest, serving 18 million people from San Diego to Ventura, is the only agency to have built dams in the last 25 years; they hold enough meet the district’s needs through 2015.

Without Southern California to blame, it’s clear the solutions must become personal as they also become universal.

“Having a dirty car and a browning lawn is a badge of honor,” said water board chairwoman Felicia Marcus. Stressing such basics, she hopes, will keep more water in California’s giant reservoirs.

But cutting back from Merced to Ripon won’t leave a drop more behind those dams. Virtually all urban residents of the San Joaquin Valley get most or all of their water from underground. So why bother?

Marcus had a good answer: “People in the Valley should step up first and foremost in solidarity with agriculture,” she said. “You can see it! It’s all around you.”

She’s right. We do see it and we will feel it, mostly in our pocketbooks.

We’re glad our state’s big-city residents will hear more loudly and forcefully from the state that this is a real emergency. We welcome all voices to this choir.

Well, we welcome almost all voices. Some folks in New York might want to pipe down.

The New York Times included all of Marcus’ points in an editorial Thursday, then took Californians to task, saying “70 percent of water districts have not imposed reasonable mandatory restrictions.” Even if technically true, it should be noted that among the districts that have is Metropolitan, which has fully half the state’s population. And San Franciscans already use less water per person than do New Yorkers. The editorial also decried the number of farmers (who aren’t even part of the new rules) who still flood irrigate. Scientists can tell the Times that drip irrigation is no more effective in growing plants than flood irrigation, but drip doesn’t recharge the aquifers we Valley residents rely on.

There is one more thing we could do to reduce urban water use: Charge more for it.

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