Letter: O and H2O

Letter to the Editor

As Sam Cooke used to sing, “I don’t know much about biology,” but I do know enough biology to say unequivocally that we humans need two things to survive—oxygen and water. We in Southern California seem to have an abundance of the former, but a dramatic shortage of the latter. Ever since I moved here almost 10 years ago, the rainfall has been virtually nonexistent.

There are only two solutions to this existential problem. We can either reduce demand or increase supply. Most public officials concentrate on the former approach. Yes, if we stop wasting water and conserve, we can alleviate the problem to an extent, but if this drought extends for another five or 10 years, no amount of conservation will do the trick without dramatically impacting our lives. Of course, we can shower every other day, let our plants die, rarely flush a toilet and so on, but ultimately we need water.

Increasing our water supply gets inadequate attention. Unlike San Diego, we have built no desalination plants in LA County,  nor do we convert sewage into drinking water. Yes, desalination comes with environmental costs, but imagine for a moment the environmental impact on human beings if we run out of water. 

The ocean’s levels are rising, but we still do not take advantage of the ocean as a water source, and so the mariner’s cry from Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” (“Water, water everywhere [but not a] drop to drink!”) rings eerily true. Nor do we benefit from the rains when they do occur. When we experienced the recent downpour, much of the water simply ran down the hills and into the ocean.

The costs for increasing supply are exorbitant while the costs for reducing demand are relatively nominal, which is why most office holders prefer the short-term, inexpensive approach, but in the long run we cannot solve this problem by solely reducing demand. Praying for rain is not a solution.

Burt Ross