A few weeks ago I drove past a neighbor’s house and saw the gardener hosing down the driveway and the sidewalk. I pulled over and told him he isn’t allowed to do that anymore, there is a drought — surely he’s heard about that. He shrugged and said, “The driveway’s dirty.” And kept hosing. I pulled out my cellphone, held it up as if I was photographing him, and said, “If I take your picture and give it to the city you’ll get a $500 fine.” That made him stop.

I assumed that my neighbor had no idea what he was doing. Her car wasn’t there, and people often have no idea what the gardener does when they aren’t home. So later in the day I went over to tell her.

One of my most distressing characteristics is that I frequently assume other people care about the same things I care about. Like the fact that California is literally running out of water. Who wouldn’t care about that? Well, my neighbor, for one  (as well as Kim Kardashian, Barbara Streisand and several other celebrities who have recently been outed for using precious water to keep their expansive lawns green and lush.)

Anyway, my neighbor was dismissive and a tad rude to me, snapping that she’d speak to the gardener, that it was not my place to do so. When I said, “But we’re running out of water. This affects everyone,” she rolled her eyes and in an annoyed tone said, “I know. I’ve turned off my sprinklers.” (Which she hasn’t — they’re on nearly every morning.)

That incident gave me a glimpse into the future — one in which neighborhoods become tense and judgmental, battle lines drawn between whose lawn is perpetually green and whose is brown, or gone — replaced with drought-tolerant plants. There is no more potent symbol of life than water. We can live a fairly long time without food, but deprived of water our chance of survival is measured in days. But this drought is not only going to make us think about survival (if you aren’t thinking about that, you should be) — it’s also going to influence how we feel about our neighbors, our co-workers, even our friends. It’s going to take us into raw territories — who is caring enough to make sacrifices, and who is selfish enough not to?

By the time this drought ends — and since all things must pass, it will end at some point — we will be different with one another, some looking down on the water wasters, others resenting being called out for their callousness. Battle lines will have been drawn, and those don’t wash away with rain.


2 Responses to WATER WARS

  1. penni Barnett says:

    Well said, Patti. This is selfishness on a grand life or death scale by many people.

  2. Rahul Singh says:

    A simple article with a clear message written with good feelings is always worth reading. So well, written.

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