Water We Fighting For?

Water Restrictions in California

While this meme aims at a real imbalance that needs to be addressed, it is Stupid and Bad enough to miss the mark.  Allow me to explain.

Recently California Governor Jerry Brown issued an executive order to address dwindling water supplies across the state.  Governor Brown’s executive order includes a sweeping set of restrictions on water usage; sweeping, that is, to everybody except the two largest water-using industries in the state of California: agriculture and oil.

Agriculture alone uses 80% of California’s water and produces 69% of the nation’s commercially available fruits and nuts.  The oil industry uses about 2 million gallons of water a day, some of which is used in the controversial process of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.  One can certainly appreciate why the average citizen, being part of the minority in terms of water usage, bristles at the thought of being asked to make the majority of the sacrifice.  It does smack of unfairness, which is why attention ought to be paid.

But this meme…this is no good.  The data in this meme are mismatched, and therefore incompatible without some number crunching.  Since I’m not a Californian, I’d like to review this meme with a somewhat more objective eye (if I can fairly use that word – objective – to describe what I do in this blog).

Let’s start by assuming the meme is correct in its assertion that it takes 1.6 gallons of water to flush the average Californian commode.  Let’s further assume that every Californian flushes only once per day (and to be honest, it’s probably more than that).  There are about 39 million people living in California, and if we multiply 39 million by 1.6 gallons, we get…carry the five…about 62.4 million gallons of water being used every day to flush toilets.  Over the course of a year, that’s…hang on, let me get out my slide rule…about 23 billion gallons of water!  That’s considerably more water than two of the examples the author picked for his meme.  And remember, I gave everybody in California only one flush per day.  Also, I didn’t account for any water that might be used for showering, cooking, brushing teeth, et cetera.

The author of this meme is trying to make a point, and as I said before, I think it’s a valuable point:  if John Q. Public is going to be restricted in terms of water use, then so should the largest water users in the state.  But the author is going about it the wrong way.  By bizarrely choosing to focus on some specific points in California’s water usage profile, the author has missed the big picture.  This is why memes seldom work for complex topics; in an effort to cram your opinions into a small, digestible meme, you have to gloss over a lot of complexity and thoughtful consideration.  When you do that, you lessen the impact of your arguments, and you make it easier for your critics to dismiss them.  I agree with the author’s implied statement that the water restrictions mandated by Governor Brown’s executive order are lop-sided, but if I didn’t agree, it would only take me 30 seconds with a calculator to determine that I could safely ignore the content of this meme…and its author.