Cambrian: Opinion

Exporting the Cambria ethos

Cambria is also a mind set, probably an exportable attitude.

This realization dawned as I was soaking in the luxury of a shower in Naples, Fla., but feeling guilty about it. Our daughter told us we should take “long” showers, frequent showers, that we could permit tap water to run as we brushed our teeth, rinsed coffee cups and dishes before putting them in the dishwasher and she would prefer that we flushed, always.

I did and felt guilty about it. And I must have cringed as she and her friend liberally watered the mini tropical garden around her lanai, because she continued to remind me, “It’s OK dad, we have plenty of water.” Indeed they do, and that is part of the point.

As Cambrians struggle to conserve, we are writing what is probably an ethical and certainly more sustainable approach to the use of a precious resource, upon which all life hinges. That we may grumble about it is immaterial.

We are proving that we can waste less, and should. I fervently subscribe to the notion that toilets should use only recycled or ocean water, if not another technology altogether. Fresh water in this application, on a planet that suffers periodic droughts and where water supplies are damaged or compromised, seems extraordinarily wasteful and unwise.

Though my daughter reminded me of the excess of water in areas of Florida, even with controversy over levels in places like the Everglades, there is, none-the-less, that nagging sense of guilt, prompted by the Cambria experience.

As we look for a way forward in our neighborhood of the planet where droughts are historic and thus recurring and where our California neighbors have turned an arid valley into the nation’s salad bowl, “sustainability” rises above merely being a good notion, or political platform or even an option for the future. It becomes the essential for survival. It is survival.

I thought about this during my guilty shower, as the water continued to run. I thought about it as I watched an afternoon tropical drenching soak the lush plants and city sidewalks. And I have continued to do so as I try to create my own “big picture” view. Why can’t bright thinkers and design engineers find the appropriate technology to match water with drought? There is too much in some places and none, or too little, in others. How can we fix that?

Matt Ridley, a member of the British House of Lords and author of “The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves,” proposed “big picture” ideas in a recent Wall Street Journal essay, “The Scarcity Fallacy.” An economist and ecologist, Ridley makes a great case for doing more with less, using innovations to improve the environment.

My codicil to that grand idea is to find a way to develop an interstate system of water delivery. Why couldn’t space on or around the interstate highway system be used for the new generation of (mostly) above ground pipe? Land acquisition, permitting, environmental impact analysis and all of those things go away when using Federal highway land. Water in pipes has less impact on the environment than internal combustion engines and the rolling stock that carries them. Plus, implementation would create jobs.

In staying with the Ridley mantra, maybe Cambria could become a test community for a full-scale gray water technology implementation in homes. Small and manageable systems exist and the re-plumbing would give local plumbers and craftsmen a lot of work. Ridley’s idea is a variation of thinking out of the box, innovating new solutions to old problems instead of simply wringing our hands.

Engineers, planners and creative thinkers are certainly capable of finding ways to activate solutions, emphasis on activate. Cambria has paid enough millions to consultants for studies. We are now eager for results.

But even if we advanced our conservation and water smarts, or even when rains return, we should remember well the lessons we are learning now. Most of us have grumbled, some have compared it to third-world status and, while it has been disruptive, we’ve been forced to think about how we use water.

That is not a bad thing, even if some of us have developed a guilt complex.

There is no guilt being back in Cambria, what with the austere system of Cambria showers and bathing. The good news is we have conserved, our unit use is way down. So while there is no guilt here, there may be tad bit of envy or a longing for those luxury showers in Naples. And maybe a fleeting thought about how nice it would be to be a tourist in town with no compunction about long showers or frequent flushing.

What can our motel operators do to impose a sense of self-control on out-of-towners? Maybe they can offer “dirty tourist” discounts — a lower room rate for not showering. Or they could encourage their guests to invite a local for a “shower with a Cambrian” special. Talk about a Cambria ethos and lesson in sustainability.