With per capita water use in the US between 560 and 700 gallons per week, my use of 17 gallons a week must seem pretty unbelievable. But it’s true, and it presents no hardship beyond going into town to take a weekly shower.
For several years, all my water needs have been met by the rainwater which falls in this desert environment. A large roof, combined with gutters and a water catchment system which includes a 1,250-gallon storage tank, provides for all my needs. The last time I had to haul in water was about 3 or 4 years ago, when a leak in my catchment and storage system resulted in hundreds of gallons of this precious commodity flowing into the ground. But this experience is becoming a distant memory. It rained a couple days ago, and my storage tank overflowed.
So when I hear stories about the drought and water catastrophe facing places like California, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Northern Texas, and when I hear that farmers and other citizens are responding to the crisis by drilling wells and depleting their groundwater reserves, I can only shake my head.
Reservoirs, creeks, and rivers usually supply a large portion of California’s water for drinking and irrigation. Because of the drought, groundwater is now furnishing close to 70% of the state’s water, up from 40% in a typical year. A report released in May shows that groundwater levels in California have hit record lows since 2008.
“The severity of the drought has been compounded by poor planning, poor management, and population growth putting pressure on already overcommitted resources,” said Peter Gleick, president of the Oakland, California-based Pacific Institute, a nonprofit that conducts interdisciplinary research on water issues. “It is the third year of the drought, and we did not act in the first two years as though anything was abnormal.”
Places like Sacramento, where 60% of residential water use goes to the watering of lawns, have instituted lawn-watering bans and restrictions. Such a reaction appears to make sense, but it relies on enforcement to work, and California is notoriously short-staffed with enforcers (read that as water police). A system-wide solution is required.
Despite its enforcement approach, water use in California has gone up. A simple philosophy should be instituted that is applied to all citizens and businesses without exception.
Some jurisdictions have taken to the incredibly counter-productive practice of outlawing or taxing the use of water which falls from the sky. Other jurisdictions fail to charge money for water that is drawn from the ground. What is wrong with this picture?
I say that water which falls from the sky should be free, and water which depletes our groundwater and aquifers should cost users money. This principle would incentivize the creation of rain catchment systems such as mine, and would discourage the depletion of the groundwater upon which our civilization depends.
It is not the business of government to regulate whether people have swimming pools, reflecting ponds and fountains, water their lawns and gardens, or wash their cars. How people can afford these uses should be up to them.
Groove of the Day