by Charlene Burgi
It was the question in the upper left-hand corner of the saveourh2o.org website that caught my attention. I wondered if the average person tosses away the question of conserving water like a worn-out pair of shoes. For me, the question took me back to a conversation I overheard a few weeks ago between Jack and our 80-plus-year-old neighbor.
They spoke of water rights, which drew me in as I hoped to glean more knowledge about a subject I knew little about. During the conversation, I learned that our ranches had first rights to our allotments, but others downstream were only given second rights to the use of that water. It was easy to understand the concern of those who might need more water than they were allowed—especially where one’s livelihood hinges on having enough water for cattle and crops. The conversation had me running to the computer to find out how these rights were established, and I found, as a side note, that the ‘49er gold rush played a huge part in the water laws of California!
While exploring the subject, I considered what water rights meant to me growing up in San Rafael. Awareness seemed to be the missing link between the two worlds. We grew up believing we had the right to turn on the water without thought of how that use would affect our neighbor. We had no restrictions regarding the time of day or year we could use water. The only minor concern was how that usage would show up on the water bill, and as a child, that thought barely crossed my mind—let alone the idea that this was a resource we needed to share with others!
Our awareness of water changed when the 1976-77 drought came. Everyone scrambled to conserve as reservoirs became dangerously low. MMWD customers cut back their consumption by 63 percent. Heritage landscapes were sacrificed to stretch our water supply for indoor use. Creative ideas about how to save water were shared in local newspapers and seen on television ads. The talk carried over to social events, educational institutions and the dinner table. Lack of rain sharpened our awareness. Many of us who lived in Marin during those days continue those water-saving habits today.
Though retired, I continue to read about water. There is a real concern about the lack of usable water for our world’s growing population. Many places suffer from horrible drought. Even in Marin—where we’re fortunate to have access to clean, local water—our supply is limited. We depend on rainfall captured in our local reservoirs. Still, most of us take for granted that when we turn on the faucet the water will be there. I wonder what we all need to do to raise our awareness to a higher level? What can you do to improve the conservation practices in your home? Are your toilets the most efficient? Is the garden mulched? Are you using smart controllers programmed to replace only the amount of water lost through evapotranspiration? Can those actions take care of our neighbors who may not have enough water?
Check out the saveourh2o.org website. There are many conservation ideas and resources for both the homeowner and the professional. You’ll find short videos demonstrating various methods of improving irrigation systems, as well as links to manufacturers’ manuals, suggested literature, tips and more. Let me know what you learned, or share your conservation ideas with other readers. Let’s all sharpen our awareness!