Thursday, May 5, 2011

Around Town: Conservation doesn't solve the problem

The drought is officially over.

“After nearly three years under a state of water emergency, heavy snowfall and rebounding reservoir levels prompted Gov. Jerry Brown to declare late last month that California’s drought is officially over.” (“Following the flow back to the source,” by Joe Piasecki, Valley Sun 4-13-11).

Despite the official announcement that the drought is over, water costs in La Cañada Flintridge will remain high, much higher than in the surrounding communities of Pasadena and Glendale. One way or another, La Cañadans will be forced to conserve.

Conservation and other forms of self-denial may seem good for the soul, but do they solve the problem?

The drought is now over, not because of efforts to conserve water usage, but because of elevated rainfall levels.

Sociobiologist Rebecca Costa, in her book, “The Watchman’s Rattle,” proposes that the “drought” is not the problem and therefore “conservation” as a remedy for the “drought” is merely a short-term solution to a long-term problem.

Costa argues that “conservation buys us time, but does not address the root cause of our water shortage: California’s growing population has greater needs than rainfall can supply. “The trends are undeniable and the solution clear: We need to manufacture more water,” Costa says.

Costa’s book concerns failed and fallen civilizations that relied on non-cognitive solutions to complex problems. A non-cognitive solution is one based on superstition, without a basis in fact.

Costa notes that the failed societies instinctively reacted to problems by fixing the symptoms, rather than addressing permanent solutions. The Mayans, for example, reverted to human sacrifice. And we revert to conservation.

In plain English, if you are faced with a water shortage (like the Mayans), human sacrifice will not get you more water.

Desalination plants, more wells and diversion of fresh-water sources, meanwhile, are permanent solutions to California's water shortage.

Costa says that conservation may make us feel better, but it is not the solution, and that as a result, California agriculture is in danger.

Can you imagine a California without agriculture?

Costa says, “I have been attending water board meetings in my area (Monterey) for half a decade. During this time, we have not generated a single drop of new water. We have the need. We have the technology…ideas that can solve the problem…die in committee.”

Purists will not like the following solution to those $500 water bills, but summer is coming and our lawn looks nice. The solution is this. There's a gym in Pasadena. The towels are fluffy, there's free Kiehl's and there’s no septic tank.

It's a sacrifice, but I'm doing my part even though the drought is “officially” over.

ANITA SUSAN BRENNER is a longtime La Cañada Flintridge resident and an attorney with Law Offices of Torres and Brenner in Pasadena. Email her at

Around Town: Conservation doesn't solve the problem

Reader's response: The importance of water conservation
"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.”"

1 comment:

ASB said...

My writing may be pathological, but my behavior mostly isn't...