Finally, the rains came

Last week, the Richmond area received about five inches of rain, which helped to reduce the rainfall deficit in our area for the year. For the record, though, we’re still short by 4.9 inches of rainfall for the year.

During the weekend before remnants of Tropical Storm Nicole drenched the Richmond area, the county of Chesterfield had announced implementing mandatory water restrictions on September 28, 2010. For several weeks prior to the announcement of mandatory water restrictions, I witnessed homeowners with automatic sprinkling systems and golf courses in our area persistently irrigating their brown lawns as the water level in Lake Chesdin continually inched downwards to record low levels. Why do they do this?

To me, such behavior is not unlike that described in a 1968 journal article entitled “The Tragedy of the Commons” in the journal Science, December 13, 1968 by the late, renowned ecologist, Garrett Hardin. Using the concept of tragedy of the commons, we may view water as a common resource, which we pay very little for. Each of us wants to maximize the beauty of our lawns, our profits from golfers, etc. Each of us reasons that if I water a little extra to keep my lawn green, it won’t matter. We do this for our own self interest, without regard for the resource and end up doing harm to the common water supply and the rest of the water user groups as well. If all water users make this individual economic decision, then the water resource in common will be exhausted to the detriment to all.

So, in my infinite quest to do the ethically right thing and not harm others with my own actions, I used my truck to transport water in four 5-gallon plastic buckets from the James River to our home about two miles away to water our winter vegetable garden of Bloomsdale spinach, dwarf Siberian curly leaf kale, cilantro, and mustard greens. Fortunately for me, it started raining…I didn’t like adding additional CO2 into the atmosphere, and taking time away from family as I drove to and from the river.

As an aside, the availability of clean drinking water is at a crisis. About a year ago, the federal government predicted that within five years at least 36 states will experience water shortages as a result of climate change (rising temperatures and drought), population growth, urban sprawl and waste. Barry Nelson, senior policy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), summed up the change in philosophy that is upon us: “The last century was the century of water engineering. This century is going to have to be the century of water efficiency.”