- - Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Two big stories in recent days are President Obama’s veto of the Keystone XL pipeline project, no matter the State Department’s study that concludes that the effort would have little effect on climate change, and California’s decision, as a result of severe drought, to impose mandatory water restrictions. But Gov. Jerry Brown’s executive order to cut water use by 25 percent reflects the slow pace of California dreaming, with regulations probably not implemented for another 45 days or so.

Of course, liberal climate change advocates, many of whom call the Golden State their home, will continue to salivate over the demise of the Keystone project, while they would be better served to save some of their drooling for what is an unprecedented drought in their backyards, perhaps the worst in history. For years the Keystone project and climate change in general have been what might be dubbed “luxury” issues for California liberals. That is, the matters aren’t pressing in the sense that they would, if left untended, drastically impact their lives. This no-skin-off-my-back scenario, however, is not the case for the state’s water crisis.

Indeed, an adequate water supply isn’t a luxury issue for Californians, and no serious attempt has been made by liberals viewing the environment with alarm to deal with it. In part, this is due to the fact that lack of moisture can’t be immediately linked to climate change. And unlike California’s initiatives to reduce so-called environmental threats through various governmental actions, the options for dealing with droughts are few. The only real alternative is drastic conservation that would impact significantly on the lives of citizens. An alternative such as desalination of ocean waters isn’t feasible because it’s a long-term project, and the residue supposedly left in the Pacific from implementation would adversely affect marine life.

Lest we forget, too, last year Mr. Brown ordered a voluntary water-use reduction, but it fell on deaf ears.

To be sure, from earliest times in America droughts plagued various areas. In colonial years, all sorts of efforts were designed to ameliorate the problem, from prayer days to resettlement. When Americans eventually populated the Great Plains, after settlement first in the East and then Far West, the area was dubbed the Great American Desert because of its lack of rainfall. And no more moving story of this crisis came than in the 1930s when the area became a Dust Bowl for years. But even then, the crisis was softened by the fact that for the area’s farmers the biggest problem was overproduction of crops, not shortages, which had a devastating effect on prices. Besides, few people lived in the area, with some territories taking many years to apply for statehood in the 19th century owing to their failure to meet congressional population levels, no matter that the federal government finally offered free land to settlers.

But California has a population of more than 38 million. Its economic impact as the nation’s largest agricultural producer would be enormous, and even if it were to rain hard every day in California until May 1, when the winter rainy season is declared over, the crisis would still burden urban residents and farmers.

Unlike liberal proposals for dealing with so-called climate change, the water conservation measures don’t have that Tinseltown allure and marketability. However, they have been tried and tested without fanfare over the years in communities experiencing severe drought. First and foremost, it means urging residents to not just reduce but eliminate watering lawns and washing cars and to put a moratorium on building swimming pools, to do laundries and dishwater cycles only when the appliances are fully filled, sweep off driveways rather than hose them down, take shorter showers and turn the water off when one is soaping down and shampooing.

And, finally, the real conservation smell test for liberals: flushing toilets only after they have been used several times.

Thomas V. DiBacco is professor emeritus at American University.

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