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Thirst For Power: Lawmakers Behaving Badly During Drought

Marisa Zocco |
October 10, 2014 | 7:44 p.m. PDT


How much longer can Californians afford to be obsessed with their lawns? (Jeremy Page/Flickr Creative Commons)
How much longer can Californians afford to be obsessed with their lawns? (Jeremy Page/Flickr Creative Commons)
California lawmakers and city officials who voted for water restrictions are using up to 8 households worth of water per year to keep their own landscapes lush. Amidst the exceptional drought in the state, city council members should be demonstrating exceptional leadership. Instead, hard times are revealing that a lack of true initiative is the root of the problem. 

On Oct. 6, an NBC News broadcast reported that several of the state’s lawmakers and officials are exceeding regional and state averages of household water usage. The biggest offenders using approximately 3,000 gallons or more per day, consume nearly 10 times that of the average California household.

If you’re thinking there has to be something wrong with their sprinkler systems, that excuse only applies to the top-ranked water usage offender on the list. Oliver Baines, Fresno City councilmember used 3,421 gallons of water per day last year due to a sprinkler glitch that he says caused a sinkhole to form behind his home.

Most others are admittedly wasting the water they are demanding residents conserve, and are doing so without regret, in order to keep their lawns lush and their pools filled.

If the fact that these officials have voted for restricting water usage for California residents but are using it in great excess is not offensive or concerning enough, one need only look to the comments these officials made when confronted. 

Mike Soubirous, councilmember for the Riverside City Council, voiced his concern that if he stopped watering his lawn (illegally) seven days a week his property value would decrease. After asking if he had to destroy his shrubs to set an example, the councilmember claimed that he didn’t know how to reduce his water usage.

Move over then, Soubirous. 

California doesn’t need supposed leaders to whine about their property value going down when the laws they have helped put into place are forcing that very thing upon the people they make decisions for. 

Californians especially do not need officials to claim they are unaware of how to minimize their own water usage after having demonstrated a mere stubborn disinterest in adhering to the measures of which they know they should: let the lawn go, let the shrubs die. 

What the state of California does need are actual leaders who realize that when they do not know something, it is time to inform themselves and work with others to find creative and innovative solutions to problems. 

When it comes to water conservation we need leaders that are not being interrogated as to why they are doing so poorly at conserving, but that are out there interrogating others as to how they can do exceptionally well at conserving water during an exceptional drought.

We need more leaders like Eric Mar, official on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors who, living in a condominium, used only 45 gallons of water per day in 2013: Less than the amount of water necessary to do a load of laundry, and a little more than used to fill an average tub.

Sadly, there are more examples of officials like Soubirous than there are of Mar. The negligent officials own up to their water usage, and even confess to being bad examples. However, while officials like Baines apologized for his water usage, others only stated they will try harder.

Californians don’t need a face to say they’re sorry. We also don’t need to be told that officials like Los Angeles Department of Water and Power Commissioner, Jill Barad, will try to do better

I was taught in grade school that when someone said they would try they were only setting themselves up for failure. When 21 days ago I wrote a story on how L.A.’s obsession with image affects water conservation, I didn’t say that for every person who shared my piece I would try to go a day without showering. I said I would do it. Nineteen days later, I still have not taken a shower. 

READ MORE: Does L.A.'s Obsession With Image Trump The Need For Water Conservation?

But that’s nothing. The person who inspired me, 23 year-old Cody Creighton of Ojai, is 85 days shower-free. We are both perfectly clean. Creighton uses natural sources of water to bathe, washing his hands regularly. An urbanite, I fill a three-gallon bucket with water every other day and scrub away while seated in my tub. Neither of us decided to try. We, along with all of the California residents allowing their lawns to crisp patch by patch, or their cars to brown with dust day after day, decided to find a solution—however inconvenient—and implement it. 

Even if Californians are not enthusiastic about a yellow hue taking over their yards, insisting on watering more than four days a week could lead to local agencies fining them up to $500 per day.

So, why haven’t these officials wasting thousands of gallons per day been fined? To begin, not a single citation has been issued in Riverside or Los Angeles. A San Jose Mercury News article states that experts claim this is due to the fact that enforcing fines could mean millions of dollars down the drain due to loss in water sales. Also, to fine would mean a political headache. 

Yes. Let’s waste a resource our physical bodies need to survive, for the sole reason that we enjoy the smell of the cash we burn, by buying desert mansions with acres of lawn that require tons of—you guessed it—water to maintain.

In a state that is rather fond of looks from handsome actors to—very apparently—green lawns, I guess it would naturally follow that our lawmakers and government officials would be more concerned about keeping up appearances than enforcing laws we pass to save a precious resource. 

But this is neither the time for keeping up personal appearances nor the time for governmental public relations to create a mere mirage that we are doing something. It isn’t the time to cling to what we are used to or comfortable with. This is a time for action, a time to start making a shift from individual comfort to a broader level of thinking focused on repairing the state’s water crisis one household, or perhaps every personal habit at a time. And if our state leaders are the first to ask us to change, shouldn’t they be the first to show us how?

Contact Contributor Marisa Zocco hereor follow her on Twitter here.



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