• Otter Views: Drought Status

    Otter Views – Drought Status

    Tom Stevens for CST


    A 30-person “rain drum” chorus reminded shoppers at the PG farmer’s market Monday that the water situation has grown dire enough to warrant heavenly supplication.

    Balloon clusters and a Mardi Gras-style “second line” of preschool percussionists gave the event a playful aspect, as did the occasional hopeful umbrella. But flyers listing household water-saving and gray water reuse tips augured bleaker times to come.

    In a bid to comply with Governor Brown’s 20 percent cutback appeal, our household has instituted navy showers and a ban on garden and landscape watering. Potted plants have been moved to the alley to absorb fog condensation dripping from the roof eaves. The truck has gone unwashed, but it was unwashed anyway, so no credit there.

    These steps, admittedly modest, precede more stringent measures to be undertaken if, or as, the drought lengthens. If Monday’s rain drumming pierced the Pacific high pressure ridge and freed the deluge, please disregard this notice. If it hasn’t rained by the time you read this, we may need to move on to the next step.

    That step, in turn, may depend on which forecaster you believe. Generous forecasters see the present drought lasting into March or April, at which point showers would fall until California’s dry season resumes from May through October. Then, presumably, normal winter rains and Sierra snowfall would return in November.

    But in this age of accelerated climate change, what is “normal” anymore? Indeed, some grim forecasters have suggested California is not exiting a three-year drought, but entering a 100- or 200-year drought. If that’s true, taking navy showers and putting a brick in the toilet tank won’t be enough. We’ll need to move to Alaska.

    As the Monday rain drummers intimated, that part is out of our hands in any case. The rain gods alone will determine when, and if, we’ll need to seek out long-forgotten umbrellas and dusty ponchos. In the mean time, rethinking some foundational American values might help conserve the water we still have.

    Basically, we’ll need a reversal of the social status system. Until now, a shiny car and a lush green lawn conferred status. Henceforth, it will be hip to have a dirty car and a lawn the color of shredded wheat. I’m happy to report our household is already ahead of the curve on both counts. Just this week, a neighbor complimented me on my truck’s cobwebs and on how “nice and powdery” our roadside grass looks.

    I realize it is sacrilege to even mention this during AT&T week, but our society’s esteem for elitist, irrigation-based sports like golf, polo and equestrian trials may need revisiting as well. A droughty future will venerate sports like rock climbing and bocce ball.

    If California moves into a 100-year or 200-year drought, manicured lawns and sit-down mowers might lose their cachet altogether. Far-sighted homeowners who saw this coming long ago replaced their thirsty Bermuda grass with pebbles, cinder, redwood chips, succulents and lawn flamingos. Others simply let everything return to its wild, un-watered state.

    All of this wars with the American urge to be “house proud,” but prudence suggests we start honoring what once was deemed shabby or reprehensible. For instance, if today we see a weathered residence surrounded by cobwebbed trucks and tall dead grass, we might scoff: “Peh, what an eyesore!” But tomorrow, we’ll murmur: “look how water-wise they are!”

    Grooming and personal appearance also may come in for drought-based status revisions. American society now reveres cleanliness, floral body scents, freshly laundered clothing, and springy, recently shampooed hair. Prolonged drought could change all that. “Shower guilt” may set in, and freshly laundered clothes could alert Orwellian sniffing dogs. Glossy, floral-scented hair will invite derision. Shaved heads and a generalized, ropy muskiness will become fashionable.

    Surveying the list of water-conservation tips that drought warnings invariably prompt, I’m always struck by the same thought. Fresh water is precious. So, shouldn’t we be doing these steps anyway?

    And, perhaps equally pertinent, what if we had done them all along?

    At times like these, I remember my Maui friends Ron and Becky. As one-time Peace Corps volunteers, they developed a third-world appreciation for fresh water that never wavered, even when they exited the third world and settled in rainy Haiku. Onto a house built from a repurposed sawmill ramp, they affixed a system of roof gutters and rainwater catchment tanks. They had access to “county water” as well, but rarely used that. It was costly.

    They bathed in a Japanese-style wood-fired furo tub that optimized water use, and their three dip-basin dishwashing method did likewise. A solar heater fueled the house’s hot water taps. An ingenious gray water system irrigated the garden. To me it seemed like overkill.

    “Ron and Becky, this is America,” I’d say. “Turn on your county pipe. Live a little. The way you guys scrimp on water, you’d think it was life itself.”

    They had carried water, so they just smiled and shook their heads.

    posted to Cedar Street Times on February 24, 2014

    Topics: Otter Views


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