Even if you haven’t seen the movie or read the book, “A Clockwork Orange” components of this story are a part of our culture, specifically a form of aversion therapy called the Ludovico technique. If you don’t know what I am referring to, allow me to briefly bring you up to speed with the extremely disturbing story about Alex, an ultra-violent criminal who, while incarcerated, is forced to undergo aversion therapy (the Ludovico technique). The intention of this therapy is to make ultra-violence undesirable in order to “cure” him of his criminal tendencies. Alex’s eyes are pried open and he is forced to watch films of violence while on drugs to make him sick. It works (at least for a time) and Alex is released out into the world as a “reformed” individual.
Sadly, as fantastical as this premise seems to be, it is not too far off from our current state. We are undergoing our own form of aversion therapy with 24 hour news, constant media feeds, tweets, apps, etc. When you really stop to consider how news and information is blasted at us like water from a high pressure hose and what happened to Alex, how different is it really?
This brings me to the drought in California. You are probably thinking…OMG is she writing about the drought again? Is that still a thing? How am I supposed to still care about the drought when Donald Trump is running for President? Have you seen his hair?
In your defense, there have been a plethora of articles on the drought. So many news blurbs, so many photo montages that we might as well be Alex with our eyes pried open staring at imagines that we ultimately have been desensitized to it. The only thing missing from the desensitization was the classic music in the back ground.
Yes, we are still in a drought in California. I recently went on a drought tour of the San Joaquin Valley. We drove through East Porterville, where there is no municipal water source and most wells have gone dry. About 60 percent of the homes have been without water for the past 18 months. Each home has a giant 350 gallon drum in front of their house which a water truck comes to fill up for the residents every couple of weeks. Sadly, the water in the drum is not fit for drinking; only showering and flushing. Residents must procure bottled water for drinking and washing dishes. The citizens of East Porterville are some of the poorest in the nation. The per capita income is about $11K annually. I know what you are thinking… OMG, is she asking me to care again? Didn’t she see the picture of Kim Kardashian’s butt?
To make the drought more challenging, California farmers are seeing their greatest profits in almond production. Currently, California farmers are reducing the amount of land they use for drought tolerant crops, like tomatoes, and planting almond trees. In fact 80 percent of the world’s almonds are produced in the San Joaquin Valley. Almonds are a water intensive crop. According to data shared at a Water Conservation Showcase in 2014, it takes 1,280 gallons of water to make a pound of almonds. It only takes 30 gallons of water to make a pound of tomatoes. Yet we, as consumers are scarfing down almonds, almond butter, almond milk, and candy with almonds like the water used to create those nuts is inconsequential. We are creating huge demand for California almonds. We want to pretend that we care that Nestlé’s water bottling plant is in the middle of drought riddled California when 10 percent of the total water of the state is used for almond growth. Fun fact, that 10 percent of total water is only the surface water; that doesn’t even include the unmetered ground water that farmers are pumping to grow and maintain this crop. I know what you are thinking… but I want it. Almonds fit my low carb, high protein skinny jeans lifestyle. Hey! I see an icon that will tell me how to lose my belly fat.
Additional challenges of the drought in California with respect to our industry surround our own irrigation systems, water features and how our residents use water. There are rate increases of upwards of 20 percent or more, there are drought penalties, irrigation restrictions, water feature restrictions, power washing restrictions and pool filling/construction restrictions. There is even an app so that people can report your community if you have a broken sprinkler head, which leads to fines and penalties.
There is so much information, so much happening with the drought, that it becomes completely overwhelming. Many property owners are pondering their curb appeal during a time when mandatory conservation is required. Yet, because these restrictions have persisted, it is easy to become numb to the problem and cease to take action. In lieu of action, some owners/managers simply throw their hands up and say “it is what it is.” Aww! Have you seen the YouTube video of the baby panda sneezing? So cute!
What makes our desensitization even worse is not that we were overloaded with information but there doesn’t seem to be a clear clean action plan. We cannot do a dance and make it rain, and we cannot effectively move water from flooded areas of the nation to drought areas so what action is there even for us to take. What really can multifamily do? As we stare at this issue with our eyes peeled open, we only can make emoticons to express our distress but are not able to react. The constant stream of information has not inspired action but inaction. Our fight or flight response has become a quick internet search for puppies learning to swim.
Technology to the rescue? Maybe. I believe that as an industry we can use this drought as a heuristic template for improving not only our assets but our lives. We need take time to pause and really look at how we are using water and appreciate the vital-ness of this resource.
Currently, there are technologies on the market that we can leverage to maintain how we want our properties to look and feel, while using less water. Did you know that you can use a 0.5 gallon per minute aerator in bathroom faucet and most residents will not notice the difference? There are 1.0 gallon per minute shower heads that allow bathers an even better shower experience than 2.0 gallon per minute shower heads. In my experience with the 0.8 gallon per flush toilet, not only have I achieved reduced water usage but because those toilets work better than 1.6 gallon per flush toilets, I have fewer maintenance calls on them. Weather based irrigation systems consistently use less water than traditional timers and have a payback of four years or less. Switching out landscapes to drought tolerant landscapes not only saves water, but modernizes the look of existing assets (great if you need to reposition). I have experience with low flow, high efficiency sprinkler heads and nozzles that use less than 50 percent of the water than older, less efficient models. Sub metering your units for water gives your residents the ability to measure and subsequently manage their own water usage. These are not new technologies; this stuff has been on the market and proven itself. Still, we are afraid that we have missed something and have stalled out.
Fortunately for Alex, the effects of his aversion therapy wore off in time. As creepy as it is for Alex to regain his appetite for violence, it is hopeful to me that we can once again become sensitive to the issues that surround us and effect change. We will plant landscape that is appropriate for our climate zones and leverage technology to measure and manage our consumption. We will install fixtures in our communities with a social conscious.
We will encourage our residents to conserve water, take shorter showers and only do laundry when they have a full load. We will purchase our foods with an understanding and appreciation of what it takes to produce those foods. We will remember that as human beings we are more than 60 percent water and that we will die without it.