Extinction Rebellion activists in France asked this in August during the country’s fourth heat wave of the season: “This hole drinks 227,000 liters of water a day. Do you drink that much?” They posed this question while packing concrete into the holes at two golf courses. For those who don’t cotton to non-violent direct action, note that they also created a petition asking for smarter water-use policies. Across the ocean, you can hear the tawny grass in Bushnell Park crunch underfoot; dandelion leaves comprise most of any remaining green. More than half the United States is experiencing drought, and in Connecticut, Gov. Lamont declared stage two drought conditions in all eight counties on July 14, 2022; these worsened to stage three on Aug. 18.
Through casual observation, you might not know there are recommended mitigation actions, or even how seriously anyone has been taking this. Manchester was watering a field in Charter Oak Park with a hose attached to a fire hydrant; Connecticut’s Drought Preparedness and Response Plan suggests leaving hydrants alone except for necessary use. In mid-August, sprinklers were running on a lush, green lawn on New Haven’s Tower Parkway. Hartford continued watering a newly installed playing field in Pope Park. Last weekend, merchants hosed down sidewalks in New Haven.
How many Navy showers must one take to offset lush lawns in a drought, I wonder.
While water-use restrictions are in effect, it’s not immediately clear if and how these are enforced. Are companies monitoring customers’ use when it comes to irrigation schedules, and if so, what happens to those abusing natural resources? Are there fines? Currently, the Metroplolitan District Commission (MDC) has only posted tips for responsible water use, stating its reservoirs are at normal level.
The Aquarion Water Company – which has instituted a mandatory water conservation schedule from April through Halloween – is more direct about what happens if customers decide not to stick to the irrigation schedule. The first line of action: educate people. If the problem continues, they can penalize violators by shutting off their water. Seems fair. Misuse your toys, get your toys taken away. To their credit, Aquarion’s guidelines were in place before any drought announcements.
This says nothing for those relying on wells, who can turn on a faucet and find they’ve been left dry.
This is not a Summer 2022 problem that we can dismiss as a blip to move on from as soon as we get more rain. The Connecticut Climate Change Preparedness Plan adopted a decade ago warned that droughts would be increasing in frequency, duration, and intensity.
As the maps tell us: we are here.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with that plan. It covers best management practices for water conservation, capture and storage, and reuse for agricultural, recreational, and domestic use, but it’s not nearly as ambitious as it needs to be. The same can be said for the USDA’s Climate Change Adaptation Plan (July 2022), and most other similar climate action plans out there.
The advice is there. Are we following it?
Are we now using stormwater runoff capture to water sports fields and golf courses, or are we, as I witnessed in Manchester when the stage two drought was announced, connecting hoses to hydrants to water playing fields? Are we demanding all stakeholders – that’s literally all of us – make careful, responsible use of this crucial resource year-round, or are we waiting until we are months into a drought to do so?
Meanwhile, the USDA declared the state’s two easternmost counties a natural disaster area, and farmers in them along with those in Hartford, Tolland, and Middlesex Counties may now be eligible for Farm Service Agency assistance and will have about eight months to apply for loans that would help with what Gov. Lamont called “production losses.” That feels sterile, like we’re talking about widgets and not about unripe peaches dropping off trees.
They can lemonade this as a dry spell with sweeter tomatoes and corn, but farmers are running low on hay.
FSA loans may stop the bleeding – this year. Is this all we have to offer going forward?
The financial hit is one part of the story. The other is who does not get those peaches, or any of the other “production losses.” When half the country experiences the same – or worse – conditions, it will not always be as simple as trucking in more produce from California or the Midwest. It’s spelled out for us in the Fourth National Climate Assessment: “Food and forage productivity decline in many regions experiencing temperature and moisture stress and more frequent and longer drought periods.” Plants suffering from lack of water become more vulnerable to pests and disease. The list of compounding problems goes on.
Earlier this month, DEEP closed sections of the West Branch Farmington River and Farmington River to fishing – not because of pollutants. DEEP Commissioner Katie Dykes explained that the “high temperatures combined with low stream flows” were stressing out the fish. Given time and the right conditions, the situation can correct itself. Those caught ignoring the fishing ban will hook a $154 fine.
At what point do we rethink business as usual and in place of irrigation schedules for lawns, throw out the immaculate, ornamental, non-food producing lawn ideal altogether? When do we abandon the types of recreation that drain vital resources, as French activists targeted? How do we think longer range, as if potable water and adequate crop yield were at top of mind?