Two years ago I began working for the Volunteer Center. Each year we began with a training exercise in which we were given acts of service to prioritize. My highest priorities were always people-focused and my absolute lowest was always riding a bike to reduce pollution. The director asked me to explain why I considered bikes a fruitless venture. I replied confidently, “because it doesn’t matter.”
Everyone else is already polluting the environment; my contribution is nominal. California is in its fourth year of drought. A drought that has not affected my daily life very much. The hills of the campus are not as green and the fountains are off, but other than that, not much has changed.
Many of us take water for granted. We drink it, we bathe in it, we cook with it and we waste it. Every morning I turn on my bathroom faucet to wash my face and brush my teeth. The night before I ran my dishwasher and a load of laundry. When I take a shower and the water is cold, I’ll let it run for a few minutes so it can get hot. Each day the cycle of usage continues without any real awareness that California is in a crisis.
We have the luxury of living under the illusion that water is not a problem. However, water in California is a golden goose. According to a 2012 USDA report, California is a huge agricultural producer that brought in $42 billion dollars in revenue. Water not only provides for our personal needs, but it fuels a huge agricultural economy that helps feed the United States and the world. These farmers turn water into food, revenue and jobs. When I wash my clothes, bathe or flush the toilet, all I am worried about is getting rid of the smell. While it may seem trivial, the U.S. Census data shows that there are more than 38 million people in the state, which means individual water use does matter.
On the policy side of things, making decisions about water will be difficult. Tough decisions will have to be made that could come with a complex set of consequences. These decisions could affect the prices of our food, our ability to access water and the livelihood of farmers. You and I may not have time to sit down and read articles, reports, editorials and legislation to figure out solutions for this crisis, and we’re probably the least qualified to ponder this Gordian knot. I found myself not only confused and overwhelmed by the amount of information, but I also realized the massive scale of the issue.
When I think back on my response to the director on biking, I come to a sad realization. I live in a world of paradox, where the bad behaviors of others are used to justify my own. In California, some are ringing alarms about water, while others are assuring us that conditions are not dire. We can choose to point the finger and throw blame or we can start by taking responsibility for own actions and wasteful habits. There are no easy solutions for the drought, but don’t wait for the government to tell you that you have to turn off the water when you brush your teeth. Just turn it off.
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