California’s drought is an ecological crisis, and like all ecological crises, it is tied to economics. Newspapers in California and across the country have been reporting the fact that income is the best predictor of household water use throughout the state, with wealthy neighborhoods and cities using an average of three times more water than their less affluent counterparts.

The reasons are simple, and they also tie to our Western tradition of urban sprawl: larger homes on larger lots have more swimming pools, lawns, fountains and other thirsty landscaping to water. (We can now add water conservation to the list of reasons why urbanism is better for California’s future.)

While many California cities have tiered water pricing, where those who use more water pay a proportionally higher rate, in an recent Orange County lawsuit filed against such practices, an appellate court panel ruled that tiered pricing may violate state laws that prohibit local governments from charging more for services than they cost to provide.

The New York Times reported that the city of Santa Fe, New Mexico has retrofitted its municipal water system and increased efficiency using funds raised by its tiered water pricing system. Additionally, the city has employed a smart rebate system that encourages residents and developers to upgrade to or build with water-efficient appliances. In light of such examples, why do some Californians insist on hampering broad-based efforts to conserve?

No matter how much wealthy drought-deniers believe, as the Washington Post quoted, that “we are not all equal when it comes to water,” the water will run out unless we change our ways. So let’s make like Santa Fe, ditch the lawns and start enjoying our Mediterranean-to-desert landscapes as nature intended.

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