Blessing of the Commons: Fostering a Sustainable Future
Carlos Ballesteros | Oct. 17, 2014, 6:38 p.m.
The World Bank predicts that two-thirds of the world’s population will run short of fresh drinking water by 2025. That’s a little over 10 years from now, folks.
The United States as a whole is financially wealthy and geographically safe enough to not worry about running out of water anytime soon. But for California, the situation is a little different: The longest drought on record rages on, with multiple reports confirming that nobody really knows how much groundwater is left.
The Central Valley, that dry patch of land on which Claremont sits right at the edge, is at risk of having as many as 100,000 wells dry up completely by the end of this month.
In the middle of this environmentally dire moment in time comes Measure W. On Nov. 4, Claremont residents are to vote whether or not the city should be authorized to issue revenue bonds to purchase its local water system infrastructure from Golden State Water Company.
For the sake of creating a more sustainable Claremont—one that can withstand the forthcoming extreme California water shortages—residents should approve Measure W as a crucial step toward regaining local control of the water supply.
There are many benefits to public control of water infrastructure. For one, public control allows residents to speak directly to decision makers at city council meetings or at city hall about their concerns regarding their water services, as opposed to dealing with corporate bureaucracies that lead nowhere, as they do now with Golden State.
Most importantly, public control allows residents to have more of a say in setting water rates. This upside cannot be overstated. By not having to succumb to high-profit margins, million-dollar salaries and company shareholders, Claremont residents can price water usage at a rate that promotes water sustainability and is most sensible for their communities.
Denouncers of the proposition cite the $222 million evaluation of the water infrastructure proposed by Golden State, along with the Golden State-funded study that residents should expect to pay $101.42 more each month if the measure is approved, as reasons enough to reject Measure W.
What these naysayers do not seem to take into account is the fact that Claremont residents already experience continuous price increases through Golden State—so much so that some Claremont residents pay twice the rates as La Verne residents, according to the Oct. 10 TSL article "Amid Rising Rates, City Engulfed in Tense Water Dispute." Golden State also discourages water conservation through a surcharge applied to residents who use less water than the company was counting on.
Both of these factors pull the rug under any claim that buying the water infrastructure back from a profit-seeking corporation will, in the long run, be economically detrimental.
However, Claremont should look beyond their immediate economic prospects. Water conservation is more than just about saving money—it is a necessity.
According to a study published in the American Meteorological Society’s Journal of Climate earlier this year, “there’s at least an 80 percent chance of a decade-long drought occurring in the Southwest over the next century." Areas in southern California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas have a 20 to 50 percent chance of experiencing a 35-year-long ‘megadrought’ in the next century.
These daunting prospects have pushed the need for radical change in water consumption; earlier this week, the mayor of Los Angeles announced a goal of reducing the city’s water use by 20 percent over the next three years.
The City of Claremont is also working to cut water consumption by replacing turf with drought-resistant landscaping and supporting residents who wish to do the same. The city is also aiming to curb poor watering habits and runoff. Furthermore, the community group Sustainable Claremont is helping to educate residents about water-wise irrigation practices.
Although Claremont is already taking meaningful steps to address the drought, residents of the City of Trees and PhDs must make even bigger strides. For full autonomy to pursue a range of conservation projects, the city must break ties with Golden State. Only by freeing itself from the unyielding demands of corporate profits can the residents of Claremont have a chance of attaining sustainable water security.
The Claremont Courier staff editorial in support of Measure W said it best: “Freedom from Golden State will, for the first time, give Claremont the change to explore options in sustainability. With the collective brainpower and green sensibilities of this community and its groundbreaking colleges, Claremont can make its mark as a leader in water conservation.”
Looking at our immediate situation as students, I think it's important to mention the Claremont Colleges' interesting position in all of this. On the one hand, the issue of water usage is one the colleges should seriously take into consideration. Between our dining halls, Marston Quad and Scripps' artificial forest, the Claremont consortium is the highest water consumer in the city—hands down.
Indeed, a healthy dose of criticism on the misuse of water in times of drought would do Claremont good. Lawns and football fields should not be so heavily watered when farmers and their families a couple hours away don’t even have enough tap water to take a shower. If the consortium wishes to keep its trees, then we need to more seriously consider alternative watering methods meant for the 21st century.
But even if Claremont residents decided to let their gardens shrivel away, started showering only twice a week and destroyed all the 5Cs' faulty sprinklers, Golden State would only up the water rates according to the surcharge, eliminating the financial benefit of any water conservation project and sapping the morale of the environmentally inclined.
Not to mention, humans haven’t figured out a way to survive without H2O (we’re counting on you, Mudd), leaving the most economically challenged Claremont residents at risk of drying up with the river beds.
Water—the source of all life on this planet—should not be at the behest of profit. Contrary to what Nestle CEO Peter Brabeck-Letmathe believes, water is a human right, and it should be humans—not market demands or profit margins—deciding how much it should cost and who it should benefit. Vote Yes on Measure W. You’ll be glad you did.
Carlos Ballesteros CM '16 is a sociology major from Chicago, Ill. During his free time, he likes to imagine himself drumming for the greatest Led Zeppelin tribute band of all time.