You Wouldn’t Pray For A Road Would You?

by Valerie Salinas-Davis

Then why in the world would you pray for rain? Yet that’s what some 21st Century politicians have done. So with Texas beginning Summer 2015 out of drought and teetering back into it by August, I got to wondering:

You wouldn’t pray for a road, electricity or a stop light at a dangerous intersection, then why in the world would you pray for rain?

It’s all critical, life-saving infrastructure and all too often it’s taken for granted. What we need to be doing is pay — not pray — for our pipes. Our colleague Asher Price just reported Austin has 3,700 miles of water pipe (which incidentally leaks 13 percent of what it carries). Laid end-to-end, that’s enough pipe to run from Austin to parched LA — and then across the country to New York! It boggles my mind how many miles of pipe must be under those cities.

Miles and miles of aging water pipe bringing us life’s most essential commodity. How it gets to our faucets is not discussed. But it’s amazing which messages do stick.

In early August, as I prepared for a presentation to the American Water Works Association California-Nevada Section, I polled 100 Californians to ask what they think we Texans ought to do with our watering habits now that we were mostly out of drought. I thought it was pretty funny when “pray for rain” made it into the word cloud analysis of the most frequently used words in the 100 responses.

Advice from Californians to Texans

Then I polled 100 Texans and asked them what advice they might have for Californians experiencing their worst drought. “Pray.”

Advice from Texans to Californians

It’s one thing for Californians to poke fun at Texans (however much we deserve it). But I think it’s great we’re poking fun at ourselves, because I have faith most of the “pray” messages were said in jest. Except maybe this one: “Pray to God to provide enough for the necessary.”

In the survey, Texans were also more hospitable to Californians than I expected. “Move out and come to Texas.” “I believe you should move down South to Texas.”

We also kept our sense of humor: “Stay thirsty my friends.” … “Arrest Magnum PI for stealing water and throw the book at him.”

Tom Selleck and praying aside, we’ve just got to quit taking our country’s vast water infrastructure for granted. Clean water doesn’t just magically materialize in our drinking glasses, bathtubs, or clothes washers, any more than roads — poof! — manifest to take us to work, or electricity self-combusts to cool our homes and workplaces in the heat of the summer, and power our lights, TVs and laptops at night.

Water Resource

It’s time for all Americans — not just Texans and Californians experiencing extreme drought — to realize we can’t just rely on the weather to ensure we have enough water now and for the future.

We must:

  1. Know the natural source of our water, and never forget it’s not an infinite resource.
  2. Understand what it takes to clean and move that water — from the natural source, to treatment, to your home or business, and away for treatment and release.
  3. Support the idea that “conservation” is as good as (and a lot less expensive) than building a new reservoir.
  4. Create consumer demand for innovations like roof-top rainwater harvesting, water reuse, and maybe even those “shade balls” dumped into that LA reservoir in August. If that’s too far out for you, demand water-saving appliances and fixtures at home, work and where you shop and eat.
  5. Realize that water in America is cheap, but probably not always. Our infrastructure is aging and we’re going to need to invest in upgrades sooner or later.
  6. Understand just how much water you are using. That way, when we’re out of drought and you overwater your lawn, you won’t get sticker shock.

In May, I was at the spring meeting of the Association of California Water Agencies in Sacramento, just as the State Water Resources Control Board approved Governor Jerry Brown’s mandatory cut of urban water use by 25 percent. The mood of the 400-or-so water utility managers was not a happy one that week. They’d essentially been asked to cut sales by 25 percent, just as the state’s emerging from a horrible recession. At a town hall meeting toward the end of the conference, one utility manager pointed it out well:

“We feel like we’ve already cut expenses as much as we can. Now we’re going to have to cut sales. We’ll have no choice but to raise rates, but I’m not sure our ratepayers will understand.”

Water Board Chair Felicia Marcus responded to the hundreds of utility managers in attendance: “It’s almost as if you all have been doing your jobs too well. Everyone knows we’re in drought, but clean water keeps coming out of the tap.”

So, I propose a toast. To the water professionals across the country, delivering clean water to all of us in an affordable way. And to water. America’s most essential but neglected resource. Cheers!

And, if you’re the praying sort, please give thanks for our country’s access to clean water.