The highest goodness is like water
The Tao Te Ching goes on to say: “Water benefits all things and does not compete. It stays in the lowly places which others despise. Therefore, it is near The Eternal.”
And yet, we humans constantly commit acts that show our disregard and disrespect for this most precious of all resources. Water pollution in El Salvador from agribusiness, factories and, especially, metals mining, pushed farmers, students, people of faith and human rights activists to form the National Roundtable Against Metallic Mining. The Roundtable’s slogan was, “We can live without gold, but we can’t live without water.” For “gold” substitute “copper” or “natural gas” or “coal” or “giant hog farms.”
About 900 million people on earth lack access to treated water. China has 20% of the world’s population and 7% of the world’s water. India has 16% of the world’s population and 4% of its water. In coming decades, two-thirds of the world’s countries will be water stressed. The results will likely be disease, famine and resource wars. These statistics were cited at a U.S.-Australian dialogue about the coming water crisis. This conference, which took place in January of this year, was organized by the Australian Consulate-General in Los Angeles in partnership with UCLA.
A deeper look at California's water woes
California, the largest national producer of agricultural products, is one of the most water-challenged areas in the United States. About 80% of the state’s water supply is used for agriculture. There have been two crops that require lots of water: rice and cotton. Northern California likes to wag its finger at Los Angeles, but actually most of the water it sends south goes to the San Joaquin Valley for agriculture.
Yearly rainfall in Los Angeles varies from 3.2 to about 38 inches. 2013 was an extremely dry year, and so far 2014 is not looking any better. Los Angeles receives 85% of its water from outside the region, but our traditional sources of water are vulnerable. The snowpack in the Eastern Sierra is very low. The Metropolitan Water District’s water storage is less than half of 2007 levels. A court ruling limits water exports from the Bay-Delta area. More Colorado River water is being diverted to Arizona. Ground water in the San Fernando basin has been contaminated.
Our “new” water sources will be conservation, reclamation and reuse. The technology and the know-how to deal with our water shortage exist. The panelists at the UCLA conference agreed that what is lacking is political will and a sufficiently strong effort to change people’s understanding and attitudes. It seems that, as long as one opens a tap and water flows out, some people will act as if an endless supply of water is available for hosing off driveways and sidewalks, and watering vast lawns.
Consider the example of storm water even though we have hardly had any for a while. On a rainy day, over 10 billion gallons of untreated water flows directly to the ocean. David Nahai, former Commission President and General Manager of the L.A. Department of Water and Power observed that we waste about 60% of storm water. Besides, urban runoff is perhaps the greatest threat to our coast. Health costs of over $51 million go each year to treat swimmers who get sick from swallowing contaminated storm water that has made its way to the ocean.
A common greeting in Australia, Earth’s driest continent, is “How are your tanks?” This refers to rainwater storage. Andy Lipkis, President of Tree People, talked about using captured rainwater for laundry, gardens and toilets. One inch of rain, he said, creates 3.6 billion gallons of runoff. Most of it goes to the street, then to storm drains, then to the ocean.
Why not capture storm runoff?
Tree People has a 218,000-gallon cistern. One can buy rainwater cisterns or rain barrels at stores like Home Depot. There is also a fence which incorporates water catchment cisterns. If it ever starts to rain again, storm water could conceivably supply 70% of L.A.’s water. Storm water can be injected into aquifers to replenish them. Lipkis said that trees, especially native oaks, are a major agent of water storage.
The L.A. Department of Water and Power, the Angeles Chapter Water Committee and other entities have told us how we can save water by repairing leaky faucets, turning off the water when we brush our teeth, watering our gardens before 8 a.m., taking shorter showers, and so on. But now we need to make bigger changes in our habits.
In January, Governor Brown announced that California is suffering a drought. He called for voluntary water conservation measures. Will those be enough? Seventeen communities in California will run out of water in 60 to 100 days.
Republicans in the House of Representatives backed HR 3964, the “Emergency Water Delivery Act.” This bill would have loosened or abrogated environmental regulations that were enacted to protect the Bay-Delta ecosystem. One congressman referred to the proposed bill as championing “farmers over fish.” It was predicted that the bill would not survive the Senate. Nonetheless, such bills are likely harbingers of pushback on environmental regulations to come.
Lose your lawns
It is time for homeowners to lose their lawns. Grass drinks lots of water and provides very little habitat for insects, birds, rodents and reptiles. It offers no shelter, flowers or fruit. LADWP will pay you to get rid of your grass. Take a trip to the Theodore Payne Nursery in Sun Valley. They can provide you with native plants and lots of information.
Find out about your local water board. Water board members are elected, and sometimes the Angeles Chapter Political Committee endorses candidates. Alf Brandt, Legislative Director to Assemblymember Anthony Rendon, believes requiring that all water delivered to residences be potable is wasteful. Meanwhile, a gray-water system can be installed to use rinse water from washing machines to water gardens. Reclaimed water is already used on golf courses and in parks and cemeteries. Purple pipes warn that the water they contain is not potable. We know what to do. We know how to do it. Public involvement can help get it done.
Carol Henning is a member of the Angeles Chapter's Executive Committee. Photo: Droplet of water by Jose Manuel Suarez / Wikimedia Commons.