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Water needs and Wall Street

Environmentally Speaking

Posted: October 8, 2008 8:53 p.m.
Updated: December 10, 2008 5:00 a.m.

So how did we get into this financial mess?

Simple. We thought housing prices would go up forever.

I didn’t. I vividly remember the housing bubble of the late ‘80s. People bought houses like they were stocks.

Easily available credit allowed my neighbors to buy five or more houses. Prices rose, and young couples like myself and my husband, who would have really liked to buy a house, were priced out of the market, at least until the market collapsed and the prices dropped.

The last bubble and bust took place about 20 years ago, resulting in a financial crisis similar to what is happening now, though not on a worldwide scale.

Just exactly how could these financial wizards have forgotten that bubbles burst?

Probably the same way that we Californians cannot seem to remember the last drought that coincidentally also occurred around 20 years ago. But here we go again.

With little local rainfall, and the Department of Water Resources predicting that the state water supply from Northern California may only be at 10 percent of normal next year, we will be facing drastic cutbacks.

The State Water Project, which now supplies about 60 percent of the water in Santa Clarita, was never meant to be the primary source of water that it has now become.

It was designed as a backup source to ensure that cities and farmers had enough water in drought periods.

But just as housing markets expand with easily-available money, so dependence on easily available and cheap water expanded beyond rational limits.

Now why would any bank lend 100 percent of the property value or not require down payments? Because good management practices, along with needed government regulation, went out the window in the face of individuals’ desires to make a quick buck.

Why would water agencies plan to 100 percent of a “normal” year, ignoring the fact that droughts are cyclical?

That same failure to use common sense and governmental oversight will undoubtedly result in severe cutbacks to local water supplies.

Like bankers finally seeing the collapse of grandiose development schemes looming on the horizon, our water agencies have declared a “Drought Alert” and recommended various conservation measures to be taken by the public.

Water conservation is a “mom and apple pie” issue. There is never a need to over-water a lawn so that water runs into the gutter and watering during the early morning or evening will save us money on our water bills as well as saving water.

But it is unlikely that such measures will be enough.

Our water agencies have consistently stated that there is enough water for the 30,000 additional units in process for Santa Clarita.

On the day the government declared a statewide drought, the county approved another 1,000 housing units in Canyon Country that must be supplied with state water.

Drought-tolerant landscaping for these homes was not required, nor was there a prohibition against lawns or swimming pools.

Just as the bankers refused to believe there could ever be another housing bust, our water agencies seem to believe that water supplies are unlimited.

The common answer to these two dilemmas is, “We all must share.”  We taxpayers must give our hard-earned money to Wall Street to bail out its excesses.

And we local homeowners must conserve more water in the future so that the builders can build more houses.

SCOPE has promoted both land use and conservation measures for many years that would have alleviated at least some of the pain.

Had we preserved our floodplains and not concreted so many of our streams, not only would we have more open space and natural habitat, but we would also be getting much more ground water recharge to supply our local needs.

Over the past 21 years, our call for such measures has for the most part gone unheeded.

Drought-tolerant landscape ordinances are another regulation that would have reduced the current impending crisis. Again, government has moved slowly in the face of opposition from the development community in spite of the recognized need for such measures.

As the drought proceeds, we will see if our local water agencies are up to the task of implementing the real regulation that is needed to cope with it.

 Water is a finite resource, just as is money in the family or national budget. We cannot grow to the extent that we dry up our rivers and groundwater locally and throughout California.

These resources will eventually reach their limit. We must recognize the limits and work within them to ensure long-term sustainability of both our economy and our water resources.

Lynne Plambeck is president of the Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment (SCOPE) and a Santa Clarita resident. Her column reflects her own views and not necessarily that of The Signal. “Environmentally Speaking” appears Thursdays in The Signal and rotates among local environmentalists.


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