R’Perspective: Water can be a class divide

Jacqueline Lee/HIGHLANDER
Jacqueline Lee/HIGHLANDER

I grew up in a medium-sized farming community in the depths of Northern California, three hours beyond the Bay Area. In my hometown, many families and farms use personal wells, but since the drought,, many of these wells have been running out of water. Families whose entire livelihood relied on water suddenly have dry wells and are being told that their town cannot allocate enough water to support their family farms, unless they pay ridiculous amounts of money. Not just the farms, but also normal families who just want enough to shower, cook and wash laundry —  very normal things in our society.

Mobile homes and low-income communities are shutting off water completely as a tactic of conservation. Families are told that they have to use a third of the water they used last year or risk heavy fines. I have friends in middle-class households who can’t afford to flush their toilets and collect bathwater to water their plants. It’s basically taboo to have green grass.

It’s awesome that my town is doing so much to conserve water. However, the biggest issue with our drought conservation tactics: they disproportionately affect low-income and even middle-class households.

While I have personally seen the effects the drought has had on my community, my own family’s water conservation does not match the urgency of the drought. And, why should we be concerned? It’s never affected us. We live in a marvelous gated neighborhood alongside the greenest golf course I’ve ever seen. Our Homeowner’s Association allows us to use as much water as we want. And even if they didn’t, it’s obvious that any one of these households could afford to pay the water fine. It’s the same story in every other gated community in my town. Green grass, sprinklers, who the heck cares?

Can you imagine the frustration you would feel if you limited your showers to five minutes, never washed your car and let all your plants die only to drive past the wealthiest part of town and catch not just glimpses, but ridiculously generous amounts of foliage and green?

I’ll be the first to admit, until I moved to Riverside I was oblivious to the state of the drought. I was sheltered from this reality by the community I grew up in. I don’t know what sparked my self-education on the drought. Somewhere along the lines, I started listening to the stories my hometown friends told me about the ridiculous measures they had to go to in order to conserve water and not be fined. I noticed I never heard the same stories from my parents. I noticed that my new Southern California friends didn’t seem as concerned about conserving water either. I noticed a trend. Water was starting to become a socioeconomic divide.

People that live in small, Northern farming communities that use personal wells know the feeling of waking up and having the water not turn on, while big Southern cities like Los Angeles don’t ever have to worry about it running out. The drought does not seem as prominent to people who have never had to worry about their wells running dry. The notion of running out of water completely is irrational to them.

Northern California’s water is literally going to the highest bidder, while it’s middle and lower income families bear the brunt of conservation. This is unfair. The United Nations clearly stated, “The human right to water is indispensable for leading a life in human dignity. It is a prerequisite for the realization of other human rights.” Water is a basic human right by every definition. It is the very force on which human life is dependant.

We’re taking a basic human right and turning it into a divide between who can and cannot afford to shower. When water levels run dangerously low, water starts to become the divide and the social class a person falls into starts to determine whether or not they can afford a basic human right.

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