Viewpoint

Water is precious. We don’t have much of it. Get used to it.

Special to The CambrianAugust 16, 2013 

Water is life. Where there is little of it, few organisms survive. Think Mars, or the Sahara and Mojave deserts. Despite its salinity, our oceans teem with life because water surrounds it. Our bodies consist of more than 90 percent water. Only 1 percent of the world's water is fresh (potable).

Humans are huge water wasters. In most urban areas at least 50 percent of all POTABLE water is flushed down toilets! We make laws that make it difficult to re-use “grey” water from showers, sinks and washing machines on our plants — or for storage in case of emergencies.

We waste water keeping lawns growing or washing our cars. We take long showers and leave the water running while brushing our teeth. There are even laws against harvesting rainwater from rooftops (think Colorado), which anyone can do with a little ingenuity.
Many think of fresh water as an inexhaustible resource. The vineyard owners in the Paso region have thought this way, and no regulations have been in place to restrict overdrafting up to this point. Now the wells are starting to dry up.

Here in Cambria we wisely established a water moratorium a dozen years ago to restrict new development, since it was recognized even then that there was a limited supply of water from our aquifer (fed by rainwater and our two streams) to support connections.

Nothing has really changed. There is no desalination, no reservoir, no aqueduct to justify expansion. Conservation efforts (low flow toilets, shower restrictors etc.) are helpful, but they are just baby steps at this point. And we are in two years of drought, with global warming clearly portending even more drought in California with no end in sight.

At a time when the Cambria Community Services District is trying to open the door to more intent-to-serve letters, there should be a “Manhattan Project” locally to stop water wastage and encourage conservation. THEN maybe a few intent-to-serve letters can be issued.

And there is still a need for an additional water source, whether small scale desal or “borrowing” from Whale Rock Reservoir in Cayucos. We have left ourselves extremely vulnerable. San Luis Obispo, incidentally, has back up supplies of water and there is no emergency. (Glad I bought a house there, an affordable mobile home, which, not so incidentally, is right near an all-year running stream).

I have staged two demos at my home to show people how they could capture rainwater for a very low cost. I have a street-side, 1,100 gallon tank that can fill up TOTALLY from garage roof rainwater with only an inch or two of rain. It cost $900. The Australian government pays for these tanks, but not so locally. I don’t believe this approach has never even been discussed at a CCSD meeting.

What is the value of such a tank or tanks? It is water that could be used for irrigation or even drinking. In a fire emergency or drought it could save your house or at least flush your toilets. You can also store rainwater in cisterns, trash barrels or stock watering tanks (I also do). Even if you never have to use it, it can give you a sense of security and some peace of mind.

Do you feel guilty flushing your toilet after you pee? I always have. So I don’t. It’s crazy sending gallons of water (or even then 1.5 gallons that our local toilet tanks are regulated to require) down the sewer to be treated and possibly disposed of because of a pint or two of urine. We keep a bucket in the shower which fills up, then I dump it in the toilet. This way very little potable water ever gets flushed down. If you just stopped regularly flushing “pee water” it would save thousands of gallons in your household a year.

It would be fairly easy to do a grey water system at my house because we have a large accessible crawl space where sewer pipes are exposed. I know which one attaches to a shower, and it’s right next to an outside wall adjacent to the garden. I haven’t done it, but could. Fortunately, you can now hire a greywater contractor to do this for you. It’s certainly worth considering.

I think it’s important to state that if there is anything that could threaten our community more, it is running out of water, as some people in Paso are experiencing right now. Trucked-in water is not really an option. No one I talk to — not engineers, economists, environmentalists or others with any knowledge of water issues — thinks opening up more intent-to-serve letters is a good idea at this time, and especially not for such large commercial projects as Kingston Bay.

We live in a community whose growth may always be restricted because of a limited supply of water, but so be it. If you want to live here, you simply must pay the price of admission — which is to buy a property with an existing water meter. Lots without water should have never been sold by real estate people who may have, at least in the past, misled buyers about the prospects for future connections.

It is a tragedy for some, but then many of these lots are nearly worthless except as open and view space — and may always be. It is just a reality we have to accept, unless fraud or deception can be proven.

William L. Seavey is an author and activist who assisted with appeals to the Board of Supervisors and California Coastal Commission over the Kingston Bay assisted living development. He founded the Greener Pastures Institute which advised urban dwellers on their options in relocating to small towns in rural areas in the West during the ’80s and ’90s. For more, go to williamseavey.com.

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