Grass is the problem, grassroots is the solution

Photo by Cameron Yong
Photo by Cameron Yong

Amid the persisting “megadrought” that is ravaging California, human usage of water, according to the Public Policy Institute of California, has not changed. Californians are far too comfortable with their water-use habits, but it is not urban water use that is the main problem.

To assuage the devastating impact of the drought and influence Californians’ water habits, our response must not only focus mainly on agriculture, but include our private sector. What UC Santa Barbara professor Gary Libecap proposes is the strengthening of property rights and the introduction of a more robust water market. Simply, there is more incentive to conserve water when prices are high. The fluctuations of the free market, and the consequent financial hardships they produce are what will meaningfully influence Californians to alter their water habits.

California’s public institutions have a role to play as well. Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown called upon Californians to reduce their water consumption by 20 percent by the year 2020. In accordance, UC President Janet Napolitano directed all UCs to reduce their water usage by 20 percent as well. A change to institutional water policy, like UC campus water policy, not only eliminates large portions of California’s total water usage, but more importantly, sets precedence for a culture of conservation within California’s most populated areas.

UC Riverside has to step up.

Irrigating farmland in the Central Valley represents roughly 80 percent of all human water use in the state. According to the Office of Sustainability, of the entire UC system, the Riverside campus currently uses 1.5 to 1.9 million gallons of water per day, the most out of any UC. There are two reasons for this gross overconsumption. Over half the water used at UC Riverside goes toward irrigation of our landscape: to the agricultural crops, and the grass

Second, our campus has received a large water grant with the land grant for the University, and UCR has acquired rights to more water from gifts over the years, making our water incredibly inexpensive. Consequently, UC Riverside’s administration has little incentive to affect water policy change any sooner than the 2020 deadline. Yet with all the science pointing to continued and increasingly devastating problems, we can’t wait five years to become part of the solution. Our current policies are unsustainable. UC Riverside is leading the charge into the future in every other field from medicine to technology, but we can’t allow our water policies to remain the problem.

Expediting change to our university’s policies will require mobilization at the grassroots level. It has to start with students. Luckily, these movements already exist.

The California Public Interest Research Group, CALPIRG, is one group currently working to expedite the water conservation effort across the UC system through this kind of grassroots mobilization. CALPIRG is campaigning to alter UCR’s water impact by changing, primarily, how we use water on our grass. But the water conservation campaign across the UC system is about more than changing policy; it’s about eliminating apathy.

It is not just our policies, but our culture, our habits and how we view water that must change to reflect just how precious and limited our water is. Unfortunately, the only factor that will draw sufficient attention to the scarcity of water is the scarcity of money.

With 17,000 jobs and over $800 million lost due to the drought in 2014 alone, and no indication that these damages will cease, there is no doubt that our consumption of water must change, and fast. We can’t wait generations for California culture to catch up with the times. Our water usage needs to change now.

 

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