CWC's Laurel Firestone is among twenty top water policy leaders who contributed personal essays to new book, Water: More or Less, by Water Education Foundation’s former executive director and long-time observer of the California water scene, Rita Schmidt Sudman. This book captures the historic water conflicts, moments of change and offers solutions for the future. Written with co-author artist and essayist Stephanie Taylor, the authors visually and verbally cover water in three dimensions – art, history, and stories of real people. The book is useful for people who need to know about California water such as elected officials, water board members and our families who wonder what we really do.
Read Laurel's essay below and order a copy of Water: More or Less below!
Water for Disadvantaged Communities
by Laurel Firestone, Co-executive Director, Community Water Center
One of my first memories of working on water when I moved to Tulare County after law school was a fistfight that broke out in the middle of a water board meeting. I had often heard the oft-quoted line that “whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting,” but hadn’t fully appreciated it until then.
Over my last decade of working on community water issues, I’ve come to appreciate why water is so deeply important to every aspect of people’s lives here in the San Joaquin Valley, and also how we can’t continue to fight over it if we want change.
From those early days, I also vividly remember being the only woman and only person under 40 serving on a local water commission. At one meeting, a fellow commissioner publicly announced that I had “nothing useful to contribute.” We have a long way to go before we see this state’s diversity reflected in its water decision-makers. Much of the prejudice and conflict I have seen are because our society remains segregated and the disparities are so great that we just see each other as other.”
Californians need to recognize that we are in this together. We can’t afford to fight with, pollute, exclude, or steal from each other. Only by embracing California’s diversity, ingenuity, and persistence can we come out of this drought stronger than going in.
Most Californians take for granted that safe and clean water will come out when they turn on their taps at home, work or school. But that isn’t the case for tens of thousands of families, whose water is unsafe to drink or use. This is an entirely preventable and solvable problem. Addressing it will take all of us making some fundamental changes: first and foremost, making it a priority to ensure that all Californians have access to a basic human right – safe, clean, affordable and accessible water adequate for human consumption, cooking and sanitation.
One such fundamental change is to protect and restore the primary drinking water sources beneath our feet: local groundwater aquifers. It’s hard to care about things you can’t see, but remediation and restoration are far more difficult than prevention. Minimizing pesticide and fertilizer application and increasing water use efficiency in agriculture can save money and maintain the long-term viability of both California’s agricultural industry and its agricultural communities.
There are many stories of suffering in this drought – families borrowing buckets of water from neighbors just to bathe their children and flush their toilets. And many suffer as they did before the drought, enduring unsafe levels of nitrate and arsenic in their tap water. But there are also many stories of people coming together to help their neighbors and find solutions. It is these efforts that will shape our path out of this crisis.
This drought has horrible and acute impacts on the lives of many of our most vulnerable families. But the drought also has a silver lining. We can use this crisis to change the way we protect and provide drinking water, thereby creating more resilient communities and ensuring the human right to water for all Californians. And we will only get there if we resist the urge to fight each other and instead come together around this crisis.