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Gary Horton: Water conservation must be just

Posted: August 13, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: August 13, 2014 2:00 a.m.

In California, water is life. Water access and rights have always been a fight for life, with farming interests warring against consumer water districts, while end consumers demand abundant water to maintain a lush Southern Californian suburban lifestyle.

Along comes our epic drought, and whatever friction over limited supply has rocketed as the water supply itself has plummeted.

Practical and even moral aspects exist to rationing or restricting water. Under drought conditions, how much water should any one person, family, or entity be allotted (or allowed to buy) — compared to others of differing circumstances?

And, as water is essential to life, shall allocations remain biased toward the financially capable, or shall some sort of “water justice” also apply when the shortage gets sufficiently short?

How do we reallocate such a life-precious resource efficaciously and justly?

Various agencies adjacent to the SCV have adopted differing approaches to water conservation in response to California’s extended drought.

Some have simply mandated 20 percent water usage reductions across the board with no concern for actual need, current efficiencies in place, or prior conservation investment.

Others have used old tricks from gas-rationing days, restricting outdoor sprinklers to even-odd-numbered days depending on your street address.

Some have even restricted all outdoor watering during winter months, effectively ruining all aesthetic landscape investment.

None of these is sufficiently thoughtful to address prior conservation investment, long-term ramifications, and certainly not consideration of “water justice.”

Let’ consider the plight of local widow Mrs. “Lovey” Thurston Howell III who — since Thurston’s untimely death by runaway golf cart on the family’s Sand Canyon private nine-hole course — now spends endless days gazing from her 20,000-square-foot mansion across lush green fairways to the spot of Thurston’s demise.

Water bills were never an issue for the Howells, and now Lovey is determined to pay whatever rationing fines may be imposed rather than lose tangible memories of her beloved Thurston.

Across town, an aged professor and his long-time live-in companion, Mary Ann, struggle making ends meet. Every dollar is precious and budgeted.

The aged professor labors 40 hours as a WalMart greeter, while Mary Ann strains arthritic hands cleaning Mrs. Howell’s Sand Canyon mansion.

Together, they share a modest 1,200-square-foot Canyon Country home where the professor, in healthier days, replaced all backyard landscaping with water-efficient porous concrete, leaving the front lawn green as a warm welcome to their humble home.

They’ve already saved tons of dear money on water bills, but now the city’s proposed every-other-day watering would kill the last remaining patch of green the professor and Mary Ann appreciate so much.

A rise in water rates would mean a reduction in bathing and other life essentials.

In truth, while such extremes exist, most of us fall someplace in between. Some have already made great conservation investments far beyond the norm, while others continue with expansive lawns and swimming pools and sprinklers running seemingly forever.

Some have money to waste, while others are on tight budgets.

Shouldn’t we recognize that what one person wastes in excess impacts the whole body of the rest of us? There is a certain “water justice” component to be considered when talk of rationing comes to the forefront.

Given the importance of getting this right for horticultural, practical, and just considerations, let’s demand our city and water agencies avoid knee-jerk reactions to sky-falling-down hysteria.

Pragmatic solutions do exist without killing our valuable landscape assets or dividing us needlessly between “haves” and “have nots.”

If the “Loveys” of our valley can afford watering at levels sufficient for a short nine-hole course, perhaps given the right structure, they might be induced or compelled to aesthetically substitute water-hogging fairways with drought resistant shrubs.

Given Mrs. Howell consumes 100 times the water of professorial types, might there be a compelling noblesse oblige for change, given the severity of our water shortage?

Conversely, water records indicate our poor professor has already cut his water usage significantly and therefore currently consumes at half the rate of his neighbors.

Might we allow exceptions from mandated cutbacks based on actual water consumption per square foot or person vs. community average?

Some water agencies already provide a modest $2 per-square-foot lawn swap-out incentive to move consumers to water-efficient gardens.

Might such incentives be expanded further, or might water agencies provide “water loans,” repayable through monthly water bills, providing homeowners immediate funds for specific and approved water conservation investments installed by contractors certified for such programs?

And rather than degrade our very high water usage Garden City public spaces and parks, might we issue “water reconstruction bonds” to provide funds for reconstruction of our most water-inefficient landscapes, with bond payback funded by water saved?

Or, given the emergency, can’t we re-allocate public works funds to first invest in emergency water conservation construction over other public works, again repaid through the water savings captured by the project?

Creative answers to reduced water availability will allow all of the SCV to participate in highly effective, just, and non-destructive water conservation actions.

As consumers and SCV residents, let’s demand thoughtful, long-term thinking over short-term mandates, which are horticulturally harmful, detrimental to landscape investments, and more often than not, are unjust in implementation.

Gary Horton is a Santa Clarita resident. “Full Speed to Port!” appears Wednesdays in The Signal.



JM: Posted: August 13, 2014 8:28 a.m.

"Water Justice" says it all. The Dem solution to everything is divide the world into the oppressed and oppressor.

OldReliable: Posted: August 13, 2014 9:10 a.m.

Wondering how Gary's expansive, lush landscape is holding up....

17trillion: Posted: August 13, 2014 11:14 a.m.

The drought is not "epic". God, all those words and all it amounts to is more b1tching about the rich.

chefgirl358: Posted: August 13, 2014 11:26 a.m.

This guy (Horton) actually owns a landscaping business right? Yeah I don't see any hidden agenda's or interests there at all...NOT!

projalice11: Posted: August 13, 2014 11:26 a.m.

"Shouldn’t we recognize that what one person wastes in excess impacts the whole body of the rest of us?" BINGO

BrianBaker: Posted: August 13, 2014 11:29 a.m.

Yeah, the usual class warfare bullpuckey.

hepnerkid: Posted: August 13, 2014 12:31 p.m.

Do you get the feeling that Gary is slightly condescending? It must be tough to be the smartest person in SCV.

tech: Posted: August 13, 2014 1:52 p.m.

“water justice” Good grief!

The vehicle I purchased for my wife is more expensive than mine. I think I'll work the "sports car justice" angle. If envy works in politics, why not bring it home?

AlwaysRight: Posted: August 13, 2014 5:30 p.m.

Actually, to be fair, Gary proposes real solutions and isn't just merely whining. This is an area that he has expertise and it is worth listening to. Sorry, but my moderate tendencies are showing.

Frankly, the Professor could make a nuclear water desalinization system out of 2 coconuts and solve all of his watering issues...

BrianBaker: Posted: August 13, 2014 6:04 p.m.

You raise an interesting point, AR.

Here we are, in the middle of a "water catastrophe". At the same time, this sorry socialist state is spending over $70 BILLION on the Browndoggle not-so-"bullet train" that no one wants or needs. I can just imagine that thing, if and when it's ever finally finished, tooling up and down the tracks with virtually empty cars, a colossal waste of resources.

Wouldn't it make more sense to take that boatload of money and sink it into something with some real value, like... oh, say.... water desalination plants?

tech: Posted: August 13, 2014 7:30 p.m.

Wouldn't "environmentalists" sue to prevent Pacific Ocean intake and energy use by desalinization plants?

BrianBaker: Posted: August 13, 2014 7:42 p.m.

Oh, hell yeah.

That's why when I wrote "Wouldn't it make more sense...", I was being facetious.

If leftists actually had any "sense", they wouldn't be leftists.

Nitsho: Posted: August 13, 2014 9:08 p.m.

Once we get into the El Niño period this winter, people will forget all about this "crisis" and complain about the rain.

The mob is fickle like that. --edited.

BrianBaker: Posted: August 13, 2014 9:15 p.m.

Yeah, but waddaya wanna bet that the "restrictions" never go away?

I've never yet known of a Dem/socialist who wants to let go of control over people's lives once they have it.

Nitsho: Posted: August 13, 2014 10:27 p.m.

That's an even money bet BB. They won't give up control. Don't know any politician that would. It's not in their interest to do so.

ricketzz: Posted: August 14, 2014 10:19 a.m.

People who do rote condemnation of modern rail are tools of puddle jumper airlines. I'd gladly pay extra to never have to go to a passenger airport again.

OldReliable: Posted: August 14, 2014 10:28 a.m.

Well, we're all hoping and praying for El Nino but meanwhile I agree with Brian; Dump the Bullet. Instead, how about a "Water Keystone Pipeline" from the great, wet North West!?

CaptGene: Posted: August 14, 2014 10:48 a.m.

cricketzz: "I'd gladly pay extra to never have to go to a passenger airport again"

Coincidentally, I'd pay extra to not have to be on a plane with you. Anyone else?

tech: Posted: August 14, 2014 12:56 p.m.

CG, I'd pay a surcharge to avoid folks who demonstrate they're unable to perform a rational cost/benefit calculation.

jdebree: Posted: August 14, 2014 3:06 p.m.

I thought this was a great article that rationally discussed the issues.

AlwaysRight: Posted: August 14, 2014 4:43 p.m.

But, more importantly:

Ginger or Mary Ann?

Nitsho: Posted: August 14, 2014 5:10 p.m.


and before you ask...Veronica.

Indy: Posted: August 14, 2014 5:25 p.m.


Appreciate the ‘common sense’ approach but most homeowners here are probably unaware of the water crisis we face.

The use of ‘water days’ while sounding attractive will be useless without enforcement.

And what happens of the people ‘over water’ on the days allowed?

How are the local water companies going to deal with that?

In any event, regardless of the ‘water reductions’, while important, still don’t address the long term circumstances we face.

As the CA population continues to grow unsustainably, the prior ‘droughts’ that have affected us will now come with greater and greater consequences as more people with less water create the issues you noted.

With CA being a huge agricultural state, the ‘conflict’ between domestic uses and business uses will become more and more extreme.

None of this current crisis is unexpected especially considering we lack any political leadership with any foresight.

The constant recitation to Americans that resources are ‘limitless’ doesn’t promote good long term planning which we’re seeing now.

And the poster that proposed ‘desalination’? That costs tens of times as much as channeling water in our current state water system.

And where’s the energy going to come from? Nuclear? We can’t even get our ‘leaders’ to figure out a way to store long term nuclear waste, something they’ve been thinking about since the 50s . . .

The harder we try to distance ourselves from the constraints of nature, the worse things will get as we see . . . there really is ‘no free lunch’ . . .

17trillion: Posted: August 14, 2014 5:29 p.m.

Mary Ann!

This is stupid! Even though I'm a cynic and often write that I don't care about how much water I use, I'm still 30% under what I used last year on this month according to my bill from Valencia Water. Why should I be penalized further?

Indy: Posted: August 14, 2014 5:30 p.m.

BrianBaker wrote: I've never yet known of a Dem/socialist who wants to let go of control over people's lives once they have it.

Indy: This poster's political philosophy is what’s really putting America at risk.

We’re asked by libertarian market fundamentalist to ignore reality and plan our future on a failing conservative philosophy?

We’ve seen from the past that short term business interest will forgo any long term consequences.

This is the current business model the poster wants us to follow.

And how’s that working out right now with water?

In any event, regulating certain resources is just the culmination of our common intelligence to deal with reality in a manner that can provide sustainability and peace of mind to all CA residents.

Putting the water issue in the hands of conservative ideologues seems to be the worse strategy available.

CaptGene: Posted: August 14, 2014 5:48 p.m.

Indy Nile: "Putting the water issue in the hands of conservative ideologues seems to be the worse strategy available"

Ha! It's liberal policies that got us in this situation in the first place! But hey, that's why he's known as Indy Nile.

tech: Posted: August 14, 2014 6:14 p.m.

Indy: This poster's political philosophy is what’s really putting America at risk.

You're right. Hall Monitors need unlimited power. Forward!

ricketzz: Posted: August 15, 2014 10:16 a.m.

Air travel is dirty. You create less pollution driving your car the same distance. Trains are the future. Building railroads is labor intensive and we need jobs.

tech: Posted: August 15, 2014 11:28 a.m.

Trains are the past. They were superseded by air travel. Trains only make sense in high population density commuter corridors and that doesn't describe California.

Government make-work programs? Those are last century as well. Think of the bloated public sector union pensions that accompany them.

Nitsho: Posted: August 15, 2014 11:56 a.m.

"Air travel is dirty." Al Gore, Dear Leader and all the other fake eco-mentalists disagree by their actions

"You create less pollution driving your car the same distance." One person does, but do 200-300? Do you want to drive to Europe? NY? FL?

"Trains are the future." Said no one in the 21st century

"Building railroads is labor intensive and we need jobs" Because everyone, but a liberal, is a ditch digger and a manual laborer. Those jobs would go to your new Honduran and Mexican undocumented democrats. Liberals already have the whites and blacks hooked on welfare. Why work for $20 when they can stay at home and play video games for the same amount...WITH free healthcare. --edited.

ricketzz: Posted: August 17, 2014 10:05 a.m.

Perpetual War is the largest government handout. Compared to the bottomless pit of "defense" spending (corporate usurpation of the government) the outlay for social welfare programs is tiny. Here is the folly of rail, writ large, by the new kings of commerce and gitten er done!

tech: Posted: August 17, 2014 6:31 p.m.

Why do you insist on writing nonsensical hyperbole that's so easily fact checked, ricketzz?

ricketzz: Posted: August 18, 2014 9:40 a.m.

Why do you leap before you look, tech?

That chart doesn't even break welfare out of larger categories. We spend about 6 times more on defense than on AFDC and TANF and SSI. Our biggest military success in Iraq was brought about by bribing warlords to not attack us (aka Anbar Awakening). Wikipedia is edited daily by the Heritage Foundation, others, for morons that use it to prove something.

AlwaysRight: Posted: August 18, 2014 6:40 p.m.

Definitely Mary Ann.

tech: Posted: August 18, 2014 9:05 p.m.

You can't reset the goalposts without detection, ricketzz. Spending on social welfare transfer payments exceed defense spending by a significant margin. Note I didn't include state spending and my observation is still correct.

You're relating a fabulist tale of the Left. --edited.

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