UP YOUR ANTE: Once upon a time, if you weren’t mad, you weren’t paying attention. Now, if you’re not clinically psychotic, you haven’t been tuning in. In this context, I was heartened to read that the powerful antipsychotic medication Abilify was the second-highest-grossing medication for the year 2014, raking in $7.8 billion in sales. Obviously, a lot of people had to be paying attention.
But then I tuned into the Santa Barbara City Council discussion about the current drought. A couple of councilmembers referenced a letter they’d received from the California Pool and Spa Association explaining why banning the construction of new pools is not such a good idea after all. Pools and spas use less water, the trade group insisted, than traditional lawns and landscaping. It turns out this assertion is factually accurate only if you don’t count all the water that’s used to fill all those pools. In other words, if lawns were planted on top of all the backyard space now occupied by swimming pools, that grass would require more water for irrigation than all the water evaporating from all those pools.
Normally, I might have replied, “Yes, and I have a bridge to sell you.” Except with the drought, rivers have dried up to such an extent bridges are no longer necessary. The once mighty Rio Grande — the border between the United States and Mexico — has been reduced to a gob of spit. It used to be people crossing into the United States were called “wetbacks.” Now the save-our-borders crowd will refer to them as “damp-shoes.”
I mention this out of exasperation with our elected officials. When it comes to the drought, they are way too sane and measured. Councilmember Gregg Hart, an eminently practical and sensible guy, has fallen prey to his own practicality and common sense. Hart has frequently stressed the difference between the real and the symbolic when contemplating City Hall’s reaction to the drought. By that, Hart means he’s not going to fuss whether fountains should be allowed to run, pools to be built, or new development to proceed, because the sums of water to be saved are too small to justify the political backlash such prohibitions will trigger.
I get it.
Except I don’t.
We are in an emergency. It’s time for people to get a little excited. And stay that way. For the first time ever, there will be zero water available from Cachuma Lake when the next water year starts this fall. That’s historically unprecedented. Equally unprecedented are the dysfunctionally fractured relations — and that’s putting it euphemistically — between the different water agencies that draw water from the lake. With snowpack in the Sierras at a historic low, it’s doubtful there will be a drop of state water delivered this coming year, either. That, too, will be historically unprecedented. Every molecule of surface water impounded in the State of California has been spoken for five times. Scientists now blame the drought on something they call “the blob,” a mass of abnormally warm water parked off the coast 1,000 miles in diameter and 300 feet deep. Other scientists worry our current dry conditions might constitute “new normal.” Thanks to the drought, the number of West Nile virus cases reported in California spiked to 801 — 31 deaths — in 2014. That’s up from 111 in 2010. The still, stagnant waters begat by the drought make breeding grounds for mosquitos to lay their eggs. In Santa Barbara County — for the first time in nine years — county vector control officials just found mosquitos that tested positive for West Nile virus out by Lake Los Carneros.
We’re in a real drought emergency. Little good comes from panic. But even less from ambiguity. Anything that reinforces public awareness of the problem — no matter how small the savings — is positive. Our inclination to believe things will work out despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary is all but irresistible. It’s human nature. Denial is built into our DNA. It’s an essential survival mechanism.
Except, of course, when it isn’t.
In that vein, how is it the Goleta Water Board can “plan” to receive more than 2,000 acre-feet in state water deliveries next year when all other agencies fully expect to get nothing? This has many water managers scratching their heads. Goleta, it turns out, is basing its plans on obviously unrealistic and rosy projections put forward by the Department of Water Resources itself. I, too, am highly susceptible to magical thinking, but I wouldn’t bet my water future on it.
Where Santa Barbara officials are mumbling about the drought — however rationally and constructively — Governor Jerry Brown decided it’s time to start shouting. Two weeks ago, he issued a fatwa decreeing all urban water agencies cut back by 25 percent. Or else. One week later, the State Water Resources Control Board refined what “or else” meant. Daily fines up to $10,000. The City of Santa Barbara is about to go from 20 percent to 25 percent. That, by the way, will cost the city $5 million in lost water sales revenues.
The Metropolitan Water District (MWD) — which supplies water to 19 million water customers throughout Southern California — just announced it will cut back deliveries to the 250 water agencies it serves by 15 percent. Jeffrey Kightlinger, head of MWD, said the time for “consciousness raising” has passed. “Now I think it’s time to jolt them,” he told columnist Patt Morrison.
In that vein, I’d suggest the best response to the California Pool and Spa Association is to ban lawns as well as new pools.
As for Abilify sales being a cause for optimism, that, too, was magical thinking. Turns out the manufacturer has been paying doctors massive kickbacks to prescribe the drug to all kinds of people with conditions for which the drug was never approved. A lawsuit brought by two former Abilify sales reps claiming they were fired for blowing the whistle just got tossed out of court. Making that verdict weird, the company previously settled with the feds on kickback allegations for $515 million. I could get mad. But maybe I’ll up my dose instead.