Over the Hill

Water deserves our respect

Phil Dirkx
Phil Dirkx

The friendly lady outside the post office said, “It’s going to be a nice warm day.”

I apologized and sheepishly said, “I’d rather have rain.”

She and her friend agreed we do need rain. They were right. We’re in a drought.

I have a pretty good amateur rain gauge. It’s mounted on a fencepost in our backyard in eastern Paso Robles. Since 1994 I’ve written my rainfall readings in a little pocket notebook. I wrote the latest entry on May 6. It says .06 inch.

That made the total, for the 2012-13 rainfall year, just 4.42 inches. Rainfall years run from July 1 to June 30. I’m still waiting to record the first rain of the new rainfall year, 2013-14. This is the latest I’ve ever waited.

But I understand why people just see the blue skies and sunshine and don’t think drought. Droughts aren’t supercharged disasters like the monster typhoon that just smashed the Philippines. And they don’t compare with Superstorm Sandy, which unstoppably flooded the East Coast last fall.

Droughts aren’t that noticeable, especially when underground water is available for irrigation. Also droughts don’t demolish buildings; they just cremate growing things.

Water has the same problem. We don’t notice it unless it goes on a rampage. We take it for granted; we use it to wash our dishes, sprinkle our lawns and flush our toilets.

But water is incredibly precious. We can’t live without it. The Earth has only a fixed, limited amount of it. But so far we humans are unlimited. About 210 years ago only 1 billion of us existed. Today there are more than 7.1 billion and multiplying.

Sure our Earth is covered with water but 97 percent of it is salty, according to the April 2010 National Geographic. The remaining water is fresh, but 70 percent of it is tied up in snow and ice (or it was in 2010). Most of what melted since then would have flowed into the salty oceans.

The National Geographic said each of us Americans uses about 100 gallons of fresh water per day at home. But millions of people in poorer countries survive on less than five gallons, and women in such places walk an average of 3.7 miles to fetch water.

Paso Robles and other places took a small step toward increasing our respect for the value of water. They raised water rates. In our world expensive things get more respect.

But that isn’t enough. We need relentless water-conservation education starting in preschool and continuing through high school. We’ve made it second-nature to click our seat belts. We can make it second-nature to conserve our water.

Phil Dirkx's column is special to The Tribune. He has lived in Paso Robles for more than five decades, and his column appears here every week. Reach Dirkx at 238-2372 or phild2008@sbcglobal.net.