Imagine a California limited to three-minute showers, dry swimming pools, and reliant on buying bottled water to stay hydrated. According to environmental scientists and the government, this may be the case if the state keeps up its water consumption with little regard for how much water we have.
On April 1, Gov. Jerry Brown ordered cities and towns across the state to cut water usage by 25 percent, a year after a strong suggestion that they should cut water usage by 20 percent. The executive order focuses on cutting as much water usage as possible in urban areas.
Unfortunately, for many Californians—including students here at UCSB—the drought is not at the front of many people’s minds. The lawns on campus are green and attempts to “go green” by administration often go ignored by students. People flock to a different dining commons if one has a “Green Monday” menu, and shower coaches installed in residence hall bathrooms to cut showers short are ignored in favor of taking the extra two minutes to just stand in boiling hot water and stare at the ceiling.
The way that people feel about taking a shorter shower to save water is similar to voting in elections: what’s the point? For many, saving the gallons of water as a result of shorter showers, or casting a ballot, don’t even make a dent in the gallons of water already gone, or votes already cast. The only response to this is that all the little things eventually add up to one very big deal.
Ordinary people aren’t the only ones who could contribute to saving water. According to the Public Policy Institute of California, 80 percent of the water consumed in the state goes towards agriculture, and most of that water goes to tending cattle. Unfortunately, it is difficult to ask farmers to save water. After all, their livelihood depends on it, and they are dependent on having water in order to be able to grow crops.
Many suggest going vegetarian as a solution, but the reality is that meat and dairy are being processed regardless of how we, the consumers, choose to eat day-to-day. Vegetarianism is better suited as a response to the water shortage—if it’s necessary to ration water, which is what we’re trying to avoid. However, that’s not to say that students shouldn’t avoid wasting water where we can.
Educating the public on the meaning of being in the most severe drought California has had in over a thousand years is key to dissolving the haze of apathy people look at water issues with. What measures could UCSB take to educate students, and in turn, plant the idea that water conservation is and should be something we should participate in?
Most students are unaware of how much water they use. If meters indicating how many gallons a shower uses were implemented, people might look at them and see how much they’re actually using. We are often told that we waste water, but we don’t know what we waste. Are our showers 24 gallons or 240 gallons long? If we knew how much water we used, it would probably shock and guilt many of us. Psychologically, we’d try to alleviate ourselves of that guilt to avoid feeling bad, and subsequently, ease a little of the water worries.
Awareness is key, and if we are also able put pressure on the science and tech industries to help develop solutions to manage our water, that may make a deeper impact on solving the crisis. We can’t be alone in solving the problem, and if every person saves a bit of water, it might genuinely reduce our water consumption. It might also send a message to farmers to do the same.
We’ll be feeling the impacts of the drought over the course of the upcoming months. Produce prices will go up soon, reflecting the costs of buying water to irrigate fields. While technologies like desalinization are being tested, the reality is that it’s expensive to implement, and potentially not worth it. Either way, a student has the ability to make a small ripple when it comes to water conservation, and it’s vital for us to do so.