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The importance of water conservation

May 04, 2011

Conservation may not be the solution to California’s water problem, but it is an important part of a multi-faceted approach to solving our state’s water needs.

Drought is normal for California. Thirty-seven of the last 40 centuries have been dry (“Water in California,” by David Carle). The 20th century was one of the three wet centuries; California’s growth was predicated on the expectation of an uncharacteristic amount of water.

As much as 70% of residential water use is for landscaping. Doesn’t it make sense for urban and suburban dwellers to reduce their water usage so that more will be available for agriculture?

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In addition to conservation, farmers in the Central Valley should be prohibited from growing alfalfa, rice and other water-intensive crops. Furthermore, the true price of water should be charged to everyone. Market forces would make it sensible to conserve, and those forces might then also make desalination plants feasible.

However, desalination is, at best, a small part of the solution: It requires a huge amount of power to purify water and thus makes an even bigger problem elsewhere. Countries that have started using desalination are either small, extremely wealthy and in possession of vast energy resources (like Saudi Arabia) or have instituted very aggressive conservation programs (like Australia).

More wells and more diversions of fresh-water sources are simply not solutions. We already withdraw water from wells faster than replacement rates, and to say that we should divert fresh water from more sources is ludicrous. We live way beyond our water means and there just aren’t more fresh water sources out there.

We all must be part of the solution and be more deeply reflective about our own behavior rather than simply trying to support pathological behavior through technological fixes. The water problem is so serious that columnists owe it to the community to engage in serious analysis rather than superficial polemic. Ms Brenner's solutions [“Conservation doesn’t solve problem,” Forum, April 28], and particularly her concluding paragraph, are deeply resonant with Marie Antoinette's apocryphal solution to the bread shortage among peasants: “Let them eat cake.”

Lisa Novick and Nicholas Warner
La Cañada Flintridge

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