Things change. Specifically, the width and breadth of human knowledge changes. Details that we took as a given a century, a decade, or even a week ago will later be revealed to be based on faulty information. The world of water conservation is now different. Since this week is April Fool’s Day, I’d like to spend this blog post talking about some of the more foolish attitudes people have historically taken toward their water.
The first way that people have been (April) fools is an unfortunate attitude that persists today: the notion that water is an infinite resource. It makes a certain amount of sense: 2/3 of the earth’s surface is covered in water, and more will always fall from the sky, right? Sure, but now we know about residence time and pollution. While it may be tempting to think of water as something that will always be there, conservation efforts must treat our water supply as limited.
You see a similar attitude in some of the legal restrictions still impacting LA’s water management policies today. Take a look, for example, at the Colorado River allocation agreement from 1922. The agreement was based around incorrect figures of the river’s actual capacity, meaning that the states that share this water supply allocated more water than actually exists in a normal year. Nobody who made these agreements thought to confirm their figures, or think about how their agreements might be impacted by drought or climate shifts, let alone leave some water behind for the plants and animals that depended on it. Even the Los Angeles Aqueduct and California Aqueduct impact communities throughout California in ways that would have been foreseeable with a bit more, well, foresight.
Let’s talk about aquifers. In simplest terms, water exists under the ground everywhere – you could pick any point on earth and start digging, and eventually, you will hit water. There are sustainable ways to tap into these resources and not-so sustainable ways but one activity to put in the “NOT GOOD” category would be to pollute this underground reservoir in a community notorious for its low rainfall. Enter the San Fernando Valley. The home of ample industry, the groundwater under the neighborhood Los Angeles residents know as “The Valley” is deeply polluted – a growing concern as the LA-area looks for more sources of drinking water. Some forward thinking about preserving water supply a few decades ago could have spared the City of Angels from many of its drinking water woes now.
As time marches on, so does science. No matter how cutting edge or forward thinking we may think ourselves, odds are that at some point in the future, people will look back on one of our cultural assumptions and wonder “What were they thinking?” This is an inevitable part of the passage of time. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t make our best effort now to be open-minded and try to be sustainable in the way we know best given the evidence we have at hand. Don’t be an April fool: care for your planet.