Column by Sharon Byrne
I’m trying to follow this issue diligently, really I am, but it’s very hard to figure out what’s really going on. Are we in a terrible drought… or not? Reading news stories…it’s all a bit confusing.
The city of Santa Barbara has declared a Stage 2 drought. This sounds pretty dire, but Stage 2 is not that severe. There are restrictions on landscape watering. You should only wash your car at a commercial facility that recycles the water. Water is to be served on request only at dining establishments, gyms should limit shower times, etc. Not the end of the world, clearly. The city is letting its park lawns go brown. Stage 2 restricts golf course watering to nights, so the municipal golf course can stay green a little longer.
Though the city hasn’t declared a water emergency to the point where we need to exhale into plastic bags (banned) to recapture water vapor expended through our breathing, some of us are becoming drought-hawks, and maybe we should. A bit of chastening been circulating locally on the (still) emerald qualities of the lawns of the Fess Parker and Oprah’s estate. Fess’s lawn is actually browning at the edges, and they were quick to implement water-saving procedures early in the year, so leave off with chastising them. Peabody Charter installed a brand new lawn, raising eyebrows. City fountains have gone dry. Others, not so dry. But that’s allowed in Stage 2 – you can have a fountain. You just can’t replenish it with fresh water.
However, not everyone moved so rapidly into drought-hawk mode. Goleta made the local news for not imposing any water restrictions, with no plans to do so until September. And they just approved a big housing project. Hmmm… did they not get the drought memo?
Palm Springs plans to put some restrictions in place by August 1st. The Coachella Valley Water District hopes to have something in place by August 12th.
Aren’t they in the desert? Shouldn’t the drought have hit them long ago?
These planned restrictions are in response to the State Water Resources Control Board’s announcement July 15th that it will enforce state conservation rules with limits on washing cars, watering lawns and golf courses only overnight, and serving water at restaurants only on request.
Wait, that sounds like the Stage 2 drought the city of Santa Barbara already declared.
Ahhh, so some communities just haven’t declared drought restrictions yet for themselves, depending on their particular water situation. The state thinks things are pretty bad, though, on the water front, no matter how flush with water resources a particular community may be at present. That’s why the State Water Resources Control Board is moving to impose $500 fines on water wasters. Our city just beat everyone to the punch because the State Water Project refused to deliver any water this year, and Cachuma shrunk to pond size, inducing panic, appropriately. Communities with more ample water resources are making their own calls, and some are late to the drought table here, even those in the desert. Got it.
Given that each community water agency seems to have its own rules for when to kick into panic mode, as a whole, we’re not moving as a state to respond very aggressively to drought conditions. Didn’t Governor Brown declare a drought State of Emergency in January? How long does it take for that to take effect? Heck, the state hired Lady Gaga to do public service announcements to encourage Californians to take extraordinary measures to conserve water. You can see the PSA at saveourwater.com.
Gaga stumbles through a teleprompter to send you to saveourh2o.org, which re-directs you right back to saveourwater.com. Not the best marketing strategy ever. There you can find handy tips on saving water, including the clever tag line “brown is the new green.” It doesn’t seem to be subliminal plugging for Governor Brown…
I listen to commercial radio in the car, watch a little cable TV, and read a lot of California news stories. However, I have yet to be hit with that particular PSA.
Summing up: the state has declared a drought state of emergency and rolled out a PSA campaign probably only seen at this point by those who crafted it. The state is setting water restrictions at stage 2, and declared intent to issue fines for those not in compliance. Water districts are figuring it out one-at-a-time, with disparate rules regarding drought declaration and water restrictions, depending on their local water resources. Santa Barbara is willingly parching itself, while the desert seems amply supplied via aquifers, with time to spare in declaring a drought.
Maybe everyone doing their own thing is why we struggle so hard as a state every time a drought rolls around.