Even if We’re Desensitized, the Drought Demands Our Attention

When Governor Jerry Brown issued an order April 1 for California residents and businesses to cut their water usage by 25 percent over the next nine months, I was skeptical. I wholly agree with Brown on the idea that big change cannot be made unless we all make small sacrifices, but mandating that the public implement water conservation in their day-to-day lives is less realistic when we look at the big picture.

An article by Jeff Wheelwright, published by the New York Times, states, “As of Wednesday, the water content of the snowpack in the Sierra range was lower than at any time since 1950.” All over the country people are looking at us, the state of California, to see how we’ll react to this mandate and the prospect of a recognizable environmental impact. But when I walk through the 5Cs every morning on my way to class, I can’t help but notice the lush green grass on the quads at Claremont McKenna College, or the sprinklers by Pitzer College’s clock tower. 

One of Brown’s main takeaways was that fresh, green lawns are a thing of the past, cautioning California residents to think twice before setting up sprinklers. Unfortunately, this is still a goal and not much of a reality until ramifications are enforced. Landscaping accounts for about half of all residential and commercial water use in the state of California, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.

Many students here seem unaffected by the mandate, and carry on as if all is normal in Claremont. We are not exempt from these changes as an institute of higher education; in fact, we should be the ones leading the way. Until we start cutting back as a society on unnecessary uses of water, like on the lawns of our own college campuses, individuals are not going to take the agency to cut down on the water they use in their own lives. The drought is real, and it will only worsen unless we intervene.

The water used to keep the grass green on campus adds up to a lot more water than an individual could conserve by showering for a shorter amount of time or turning the water off while brushing their teeth. These seem to be the kinds of things Brown is expecting us to do to conserve water by 25 percent, but if we really want to help it is going to take a lot more than that.

Individual changes in how you use water can help reduce water shortage in small part, but the only way to cut our water usage by the whopping 25 percent that Brown expects is to challenge the misuses happening on a larger level. 

Some students here at the 5Cs have already seen this issue and taken the initiative. This February, the Board of Trustees at Scripps College approved students’ proposal for lawn removal on Scripps’s campus. When a student or group of students stands up to question these wasteful institutional practices, an action that is not foreign to students at these colleges, their actions transcend any mandate. 

One possible flaw with Brown’s plan was outlined in the aforementioned article: California is so large and diverse that cutting water by 25 percent means very different things in different places. How can one set the same standard on the entire city of Los Angeles as on a small desert town? You simply cannot. The article says that it is insufficient to cast a blanket policy, and I agree. Wheelwright writes, “Perhaps we Californians have taken our bountiful natural resources too much for granted. Let’s hope that nature doesn’t settle the score.” 

But that’s where he’s missed the mark—we don’t need to twiddle our thumbs and hope, but rather make concerted efforts, following the example of Scripps College reducing the water use in their lawns. Pitzer already implements a desert landscape, which cuts water costs and production significantly; the other schools should consider a change too. 

Students: Whether you are a first-year or about to graduate, this impacts you. In solving this crisis and maintaining a healthy yet resourceful life, we need to question large-scale misuses of water ourselves. Take a critical look at daily use and habits, but also at the bigger-picture things that we take for granted, like the lush lawns of college campuses. Trust me, there are viable alternatives out there.

Dead grass may look unpleasant, but it is a lot better than a dead planet. The ball’s in our court, even if it means making aesthetic sacrifices that make brown the new green.

Julia Hoyt is a first-year student at Pitzer College.

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