Jul
04
2006

Water Ban

Yesterday, or the day before, DeKalb county put a complete ban on all outdoor watering. I found this interesting, because I have just finished reading Jared Diamond’s latest book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed.
Don’t recognize that name? He’s the author of Guns, Germs and Steel. One of the threads running through Collapse is enivromentalism, and how human psychology interacts with environmental issues. Humans generally are not very good at understanding or reacting to long term or low risk threats, which is where environmental concerns usually occur. Humans also (quite naturally) are extremely selfish, and won’t sacrifice much for other groups of humans.

Throughout the world, freshwater supplies are dwindling. In my area of the world, three states spend much of their time bickering and suing each other for access to the same limited supply of water. I am one of the consumers of that water (the Chatahoochee basin). The water’s dissapearing fast, so conservation measures are being enacted. This year is particularly bad, because a faulty chip somewhere let a billion odd gallons go out without anyone noticing, and the government wouldn’t believe the residents who told them the water level looked low.

A total ban is unusual around here. Most counties go to alternate water days (odd-numbered houses one day, even-‘s the next), or certain hours of the day, or other halfway measures. I wonder how effective partial measures are. If I water my lawn 3 days a week, what do I care which days it is? I have a timer on my sprinkler, so the hours of the day doesn’t bother me. Does it significantly decrease consumption?

What incentives are there to rat on neighbors? I find this fascinating. The day after the ban started, our next door neighbor was watering her plants same as always. I dramatically cut back the sprinkler schedule (to about 8% of what it was), but didn’t completely turn it off. Never for a moment did I think that either of us would tattle. But if usage had been more overt I might have. Two motives conflict: (1) You shouldn’t ever start a fight with your neighbor unless unavoidable, and (2) Hey, that’s just unfair! I’d love to see a study on how those motives play out in the real world.

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