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  • Brittney West

A Precious Resource

This was written as an argument from experience for Advanced Argumentative Writing.

I am guilty of wasting water. After a stressful day I have been known to take a hot thirty minute shower (and dozed off multiple times) after everyone in my house was asleep. I may have shattered a glass bottle in the pool and my family may or may not have had to drain it and refill all 15,000 gallons of water in the swimming pool. I have definitely left the faucet running after brushing my teeth. This, in southern California, could not be tolerated. I am 19 years old and for the years of my life that I remember, I have lived in a drought.

Geographically, southern California is a desert. Rainy season is considered to be from

October to February. But really, it doesn’t start raining until late November. The Los Angeles region of California, where I am from, gets an average of 14 inches of rain per year. Because of flooding issues in the 1960s, infrastructure is designed so that rainwater is diverted directly into the ocean. So, for the past decade, California has been receiving less rain than it should and the rain that it does receive is not being captured for use.

The water that Southern California uses comes from two places: the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the Colorado River. The Sierra Nevadas are the primary source of water as the snow melt replenishes rivers and reservoirs. When snowpack is lower in the Sierra Nevadas than normal, more water is taken from the Colorado River. The process of importing water is costly; therefore, water bills in Southern California are more expensive. A typical water bill for a family of four living in southern California is $240 for two months.

Most of the water the state receives is reserved for farming and for fighting fires. California produces the most fruits, vegetables, wines and nuts than any other state in the United States. The crops that are produced are essential to the economy of the state (which is 6th in the world behind the United Kingdom and ahead of France). So, 80% of California’s water is used for the farming of almonds, grapes, strawberries, avocados, flowers, oranges, cannabis and more.That means 20% of the total water California receives a year is devoted to the everyday use of the 40 million people that live in the state and to fighting wildfires. From 2011-2014 there were over 1,000 wildfires because of the dry landscape and dead brush. The fires were impossible to contain and there was not enough water to extinguish them. As I am writing this, there is a wildfire in Ventura County, California that has charred 50,000 acres of land in 19 hours, killing one and causing 25,000 mandatory evacuations.

The drought caused restrictive water laws. At its worst, we were allowed water landscaping once a week, we were charged for tap water at restaurants and we were fined by the water company if water usage reached a certain level or if our water usage did not decrease by 16% before a given deadline. Because of the scarcity of water and its price, the people adjusted their lifestyle. We would collect cold shower water in a bucket and then use it to water plants. If we didn’t finish a glass of water, the remaining water was also used to water plants or soak pots or in a pets water bowl. Everyone was scolded for leaving the faucet on. You were fined $500 dollars if you rinsed off your driveway or car with a hose. Growing up this was all I knew and it was my normal.

I currently attend Syracuse University in upstate New York. During my first semester I was appalled. How could people leave the faucet on while brushing on their teeth? Seriously? Didn’t they know that one person can save 200 gallons of water a month if they turned off the faucet? That’s so much water. I would complain to my roommate from Seattle who would say, “who cares it rains all the time?”. But, it was August, it was 90°F, and I was unaware that Syracuse receives the most snow in the United States. I was the crazy person who was obsessing over a clear, limitless liquid that consistently falls from the sky and causes cabin fever in the winter. However, after winter, I was a changed woman. I took as long of showers as I wanted, I threw the water from full water bottles down the sink, and, yes, I left the faucet on when brushing my teeth. When I returned to California for summer break, these habits had to change.

Returning from a place that got 42 inches of rain and snowfall to a place that got a whopping 17 inches (120% more rain than normal!) was shocking. However, the more puzzling thing was the disconnect between the east and the west coast. I found that no one in the east was aware of the need for a natural resource that was so readily available to them in the country they live in. Yes, they knew that California had wildfires. But, someone once told me that they thought that they came from reckless campers and a bonfire go wrong or someone who hadn’t extinguished a cigarette butt. This disconnect was astonishing to me. There’s no reason that all US citizens should know about California’s lack of water. I just thought that they would. As rain levels continue to go down and water supplies continue to decrease, California will need to import more water than it already does. That means places that get enough water will lose what they already have placing a limitation on the place that it’s coming from. Additionally, California produces more than a third of the country’s production of the nations vegetables and more than two thirds of its fruit and nuts. Therefore, it will always be a priority to give California water to maintain the economic output of this farming. And, if, with all the climate change happening in the world right now, the east coast gets less water or it doesn’t snow as much in Colorado as it usually does, where are we going to get the water from? If everyone starts needing it where is it going to come from?

Sure, California could start getting loads of rain as the global climate continues to change. There’s also the option of desalination (removing salt from ocean water) that is currently in use on Catalina, an island off the coast of California. However, with extended use, this could be detrimental to ocean ecology. Instead, the idea of conservation should be prevalent in everyone’s life so we can avoid drastic measures like this for as long as possible. I’m not saying that you have to take a bucket in the shower with you. But, if more people were willing to cut down their water usage, like turning off the faucet when brushing their teeth, more water would be available when more droughts occur in the future.

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