There is nothing like a drought to make us think about water. This summer the state of California initiated water restrictions, requiring municipalities to bring consumption under control or face penalties. Those restrictions affected everyone, from local governments to private citizens. Throughout the summer, we watched as green spaces went brown, grassy lawns were converted to more drought-tolerant landscapes, commuters drove their cars dirty, and outdoor water use was curbed to the hours between dusk and dawn. In our homes, some of us learned to take shorter showers, make use of our “gray water,” and employ other conservation methods. It has been a big adjustment, making some of our children ask if these changes are temporary or are their new way of life.
Even with all this, however, I have come to believe that we Californians still take water for granted. We cut back, but still have plenty of what we need. A dirty car doesn’t kill us. A short shower gets the job done. And some, willing to pay the financial penalties, seem to be ignoring the environmental and governmental warnings. It makes me wonder what it will really take to make us all appreciate the precious and non-renewable resource of water.
For me, it took a recent trip to Puerto Rico, a formerly lush, tropical island that has been suffering from drought for the last four years. While the rainforest still appears green, on the south coast, the hills are as brown as the Central Valley of California. When I was in Puerto Rico in 2011, it rained every day. This time, the rain was rare. Many Puerto Ricans depend on the food they can grow for themselves. Without water, little grows.
Due to this severe shortage, the government of Puerto Rico has skipped right over self-imposed restrictions. In many places, they just shut the water off. In some regions, there is no running water for two days out of three. In others, it’s every other day – no faucets, no flush toilets, nothing. Only in public buildings or tourist sites, like hotels, restaurants, and shopping centers, can you count on running water. In private homes, you learn to save or go without.
While our youth group was in Puerto Rico, we learned to take showers every other day, wash dishes by boiling stored water, and flush toilets manually with buckets we had in reserve. It made life pretty basic for a few days. But then, we came home. Home, where cutting back looks like a luxury compared to doing without. I think of our PR friends often.
So water . . . it really is a big deal. Although we may sometimes grow weary of the warnings and wrestle with how to live within limitations, let us never grow complacent about the role water plays in our world. Water is essential for life. As such, water is a gift from God. Let us receive every drop with gratitude and use it wisely and well.