Monday, February 9, 2009

Water Rationing Warning in Los Angeles

Well, not exactly rationing, but pay-for-use measures were proposed today by the Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.  Watering lawns also is proposed to be restricted to 2 days each week, Mondays and Thursdays.  The pay-for-use would set consumption tiers, with the lowest tier priced low, next usage tier a bit more, then any water above the highest tier charged a higher rate.  

As I see them, the problems are these:  first, how will the tiers be set?  Will these be based on past years' consumption, so each metered user must cut 10 percent below that average to maintain no additional price?  This is not a fair solution, as some users have done nothing to conserve, while others have already done all they can to conserve.  In California, we have low-flow toilets, low-flow shower heads, water-smart clothes washers that weigh the clothes load then add water accordingly, motion-activated flush mechanisms on toilets and urinals, and the same on lavatory faucets, and lawn sprinklers on timers.  Those are just the engineered solutions. 

Then, we have the actions of residents.  Among these are turning off water while brushing teeth or shaving, only running the dishwasher when full, washing full loads of laundry, assuming one does not yet have a smart washer, washing the bed linens once per week, sweeping the driveway and sidewalk instead of hosing them down, not washing the car as often, and installing native landscape rather than lush green grass and shrubs.  

One can see the inequities already.  Where a conscientious citizen has done all he can do by purchasing the low-usage items, taking short showers, turning off the bathroom tap while brushing teeth and shaving, and replacing the grass lawn with rocks and native landscape, will he be unfairly punished with an across-the-board 10 percent reduction requirement?  Why will this citizen not be rewarded for past water savings, instead?  

Compare him to the profligate water user, one with a pool that has a slow leak, who waters his grass lawn each day even though the water runs off into the street, who has older toilets, or if he has modern toilets, flushes them twice each time just in case, washes dishes each night even with only a few dishes, takes a long shower twice each day with a standard flow shower head, and washes clothes and linens every day with only a few items in the wash.    Also, this profligate runs the kitchen faucet steadily while preparing meals, such as washing the veggies and fruits with gallons of water.   He may also have small children, who flush the toilet just to watch the water run, over and over and over.   

Similar conservation measures were implemented recently in the San Francisco Bay area, and residents came out in force to raise these and other issues before the local authorities.  

Allocating water is not an easy issue, for example, it might be wise to allocate a given amount of water per month for each person living in a residence, be it house or apartment or condo or townhome.   But then, privacy issues arise.  Does one really want the city water department knowing how many people live in your home?   And what do you do if you have a party?  Or your inlaws move in for a week?  Or your college age children return just for the summer?  Or you have a baby, or twins, and your washing needs go way up?

Compared to previous years, California is in a different position in this water crisis.  The population is much higher, and the internet is a factor where it was not in any earlier drought.   One can only speculate what would happen if internet-savvy citizens take a lesson from the Facebook flash dance crowd that overwhelmed a tube station in London very recently.  Apparently, one Facebook user sent a message to his friends, and they sent it to theirs, and so on, and many thousands of people showed up at the appointed time and place to sing, play music, and dance, thereby virtually shutting down the entrance/exit to the underground station.

The water crisis is here, and the politicians are beginning their moves.  As always, California will be fun to watch as this plays out. 

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.   

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