From the time I was a very small child, growing up within the vast expanse of Los Angeles County, I have been told to take shorter showers. Even at 8 years old, I remember our water district representatives explaining how important turning the tap off while brushing your teeth was. Similarly to the “recycle your paper” lectures of the early 1990’s, I recall finding these campaigns vague and pointless. How was putting my spent homework into a different colored wastebasket going to stop the rainforests from being cut down?
Even then I sensed these purported “green planet/water-saving” techniques were nothing more than flimsy Band-Aids the powers-that-be had handed down so that they could pretend they were doing something meaningful about clearly catastrophic environmental trends.
Growing up in Southern California, natural ‘disasters’ were a regular part of my life. Droughts, floods, fires, earthquakes and landslides were general background noise in the seasonal cycle. They got a lot of splashy pictures in the news but seemed uneventful to me. NOW after a decade of living abroad in one of the most pristine remaining wilderness regions on earth (British Columbia) I have found myself living in Southern California yet again, just as California continues to renew its first ever state-wide mandatory water cutbacks (caused by the exceedingly minimal snowpack in the Sierra Nevada).
Lawn owners beware! Giant green swathes are suddenly suspiciously eyed by all those sacrificing their shower lengths. The fountains still running in Beverly Hills are already under attack by the liberal media. Being a writer and Eco-designer I have more than a few great ideas for replacing lawns with lush low-water landscaping, but even if we ripped out every lawn in the entire state of California (yes, golf courses too!) we would still – sooner or later – find drought heavily knocking at our doors once more.
Now don’t get me wrong, I think our state (and the entire Southwest of North America) would benefit from at least 75% less lawn space BUT lawns are not the only water-wasting criminal on the block. Actually, as much as I find lawns boring and incredibly wasteful, lawns aren’t really the culprit at all.
So who are the bad guys?
The main culprit has been the long-term imposition of simplified human design systems on highly complex natural ones: paved and straightened river ways, heavily eroded hillsides, diversion of water from flood plains causing a lack of re-infiltration, draining of aquifers, lack of grey water systems.
Our current water systems, transportation systems and resource extraction methods are based on highly polished industrial efficiency. It has wiped out a huge arsenal of nature's regenerative capacities. By streamlining systems we have removed nature’s ability to renew herself. Our control of wild fire causes us to strip landscapes of organic matter, depleting soil fertility and exacerbating drought problems. Our methods for controlling flooding have destroyed the lushest component of our ecosystem.
The problem is not our lawns or over-population (though these are still challenging). It is our fundamental errors in systematic design. Creating a fear state over water availability will help nothing. What we have to do is address the root causes of drought: EROSION (yes! did you know we are loosing topsoil on the planet even faster than fresh water and fossil fuel?) deforestation, destruction of catchment plains and greenhouse gas emissions.
It's never too late to start correcting our landscapes! Let's remember what the biggest crimes agains the environment really are.
Hi! I'm Briana, Lead Designer and Founder of Califia ECOdesigns in Pasadena, CA. I've organic farmed all over Western North & Central America and love designing drought tolerant and sustainable landscapes. I earned my Permaculture Design Certification in 2011 from engineer Rob Avis.