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Monday, September 14, 2009

Think Blue First



"Those people are bad, they water every day." So says my ten year old daughter on our daily early morning walk with the dog. We are walking past one of the many sidewalks soaked with water in our neighborhood. A sidewalk that borders a perfectly tended and lush green lawn, gardens with beautiful plants and flowers. A soaked sidewalk bordering a picture perfect yard that is soaking up thousands of gallons of water a year.

My daughter has labelled them "bad" because she is aware of our watering restrictions in Long Beach, residents and businesses are only allowed to water their landscapes Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays before 8:00 in the morning or after 5:00 in the evening. But these restrictions appear to be good for only those who do not care that their lawn has the brown, parched, scruffy look that results if you live in Southern California and only water three times a week for a few minutes. These restrictions are apparently only for those families who do not have the pride of ownership that is shown with a healthy landscape that requires sprinklers to be run for ten minutes per station per day. These restrictions are like the no speaking on cell phones while driving--a great idea until I need to make a call.

My daughter's comment allowed me to initiate a conversation about ego. Having taken many years to grasp the concept of my own ego--and still grasping by the way--looking at trying to explain ego to her was a fun challenge. Note to self: leave the id and super-ego out of the conversation with the 10 year old at 6:45 in the morning. After trying to describe that our egos are how we feel about ourselves and how we want others to view or think about us, that our egos can lead us to try to present ourselves in our best way and if we allow it to our egos can make us selfish and more concerned with how we look, what we feel and what others think about us than what effect we may be having on others.

"So my ego is like when I put my hair in ponytails because I think they make me look pretty?"

So she is getting it, in a fourth grade type of way. Yes, I reply it is like that and instead of ponytails our neighbors and many, many people use their front lawns sort of like you use ponytails--to make their homes look pretty. Our lawns are green and moist and overwatered because our egos as a society are tied to our lawns and how our homes look. Want to brighten your neighbor's day? Greet him with, "Wow Fred, your yard looks fantastic!" Want to take some shine off the brightness? Follow it with, "how do you keep it so nice and green under watering restrictions?"

Full disclosure: until Spring of 2008 our lawn was one of those scruffy, scratchy, brown with patches of green (usually dandelions) yards where the gardeners would come and cut the dead stuff that got pushed up. It looked this way because we were following the Long Beach Water Department's watering policy. Then we were asked to participate in a project with the water department, they wanted to rip our our grass and re-landscape our yard with California native and drought resistant plants. We readily agreed and after some challenges for both parties the result is our front yard has no grass, is watered very little using the latest technology in hydration systems and looks great. From what they learned in doing our project Long Beach Water then held lotteries and transformed nine more homes throughout the city. The purpose is to use these yards as models for neighbors to see what a low water, drought tolerant yard can look like. It is not cactus and tumbleweeds with a bunch of dirt, but beautiful plants and flowers, ground cover alive with bees, and butterflies and hummingbirds.

Because of our project our family became a bit more water-wise. Our children's awareness was raised considerably and they have bought into one of our water saving habits.

A lot of media, resources and political capital is being spent on "think green." Green this, green that. If you want to sell any product put "green" on it somehow, or worse the new buzz word: sustainable. Plant a sustainable vegetable garden! Um, not really "sustainable" because you need to use water, a lot usually, to make it grow. Build a "sustainable" building! Um, again not really possible unless everything including the materials to build and the resources for heating, cooling, electrical, water are all self contained and produced on site. But never mind the details, just call it that and people will show up and applaud. Drive "green" cars, which as I am learning are not that much "greener" than most of our newer regular cars. Green, green, green.

Most of the green movement is around two things: cars and electricity use. The first one has improved dramatically over the years as emissions per vehicle have been cut down tremendously with advancing technologies. The second one, electrical use, is being addressed by mandating hazardous light bulbs for our homes and asking people to turn off light switches. Electrical generation as a polluting industry can be very quickly and easily addressed if our state and federal governments were not so beholden to the special interests of extreme-enviromentalism. Simply allow the building of new refineries for cleaner production of our fossil fuels, allow the building on new power generation plants for the cleaner production of our electricity. The latter includes allowing the building of nuclear plants and solar and thermal generation plants and also the construction of power lines to bring the electricity wear needed.

While many people are trying to out-green each other, from Hollywood to Washington, while flying in private jets, attending huge celebrations that consume tons of energy and otherwise behaving in somewhat hypocritical ways--they often go home to big homes on big estates with beautiful green lawns.

It is my opinion that here in Southern California we need more people to think green less and think blue more. We need more individuals and families thinking more about how and where they can save water a gallon or two at a time. The water companies are speaking about the two, three, four year drought we are in, but actually in our region we are in perpetual drought conditions because we live in a desert that has water brought in to satisfy our needs. While man has figured out how to convert oil, coal, atoms, sun, wind and water power to electricity, man has not figure out how to make water on any sort of scale that would satisfy the needs of a large population.

The Long Beach Water Department has 5 areas listed where families and households can save water. On its site it provides links to saving water (top 5: toilet, washing clothes, leaks, landscaping and plants) and landscaping guidance for plants, layouts and planting drought tolerant plants.

Here are some additional tips you can use:

One our family has bought into: Every third unless it's a turd. A bit crude and Leslie will cringe at me writing that but you need a catchy phrase to get kids attention. I might add as well, and unless we have company. You can save a lot of water by letting it mellow if it is yellow.

When running bath water waiting for it to heat up get a bucket and fill it to water potted plants indoors and out.

When doing dishes fill a sink with water instead of rinsing every plate individually.

Wash your car (a big ego item in Southern California) once a month or less instead of every week.

Shower with a friend, or spouse. Yes definitely a spouse instead of the friend. But if you do not have a spouse get a shower buddy!

Imagine the progress that could be made on water conservation if more awareness was brought to the issue? What if the celebrities and the politicians and the local leaders were more vocal on being water use conscious. What if we said to our neighbor with the brown grass and dying plants, "Hey Stan, your lawn looks great, thanks for conserving water for all of us!"

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2 comments:

Charles S said...

Dennis,
Some good points about water conservation and behavior modification. However, for many of us, conserving water is like stealing from the poor and giving to the rich. As we cut back on water usage, the price of water goes up because the water department's cost are rising (cost of imported water, water management, infrastructure maintenance, etc.). Pretty soon, only the well off affluent will be able to afford the luxury of landscaping and lawns. If we keep the demand for water high, then our politicians and utility managers will be motivated to find solutions, like the desalinization process developed here in Long Beach. The few measly foot acres of water the residents can conserve are not anywhere near to the amounts of water wasted by industry, agriculture, parks, golf courses, entertainment (i.e., Disneyland), government (city, state and federal) and the utilities themselves (breaks in water mains ring a bell?). How much water is used to scrub and remove the urine salt buildup in your toilet?

I think the populace needs better examples of water conservation from the other water wasters before it can work. Thanks for trying.

Dennis C Smith said...

Charles: Very good points, I would extend them to the global warming hysteria that has squiggly light bulbs, gasoline additives and CAFE requirements.