A line of water trickles along the gutter of our sidewalk. I follow it down the street. I can’t identify from which house it came. I do this often – this sleuthing to identify which neighbor is wasting water. I’ve seen a neighbor washing his car on the street with the hose running; gardens being watered mid-day and malfunctioning sprinklers; people hosing off a driveway and sidewalk rather than sweeping. I don’t want to earn the reputation of a busy body with too much time on her hands, so I don’t say, “Do you realize that Chile is in its fifth year of drought? Shouldn’t we be conserving water?”
Few city dwellers consider where our water comes from. We’re too far from its source. Captured from wild rivers, it’s channeled into wide underground tubes and then into smaller pipes to buildings and homes and gardens and golf courses and fountains and pools. Turn on the faucet and out it pours. Or pop a few bottles of water into your shopping cart. So easy. Here in Santiago most people know it comes from some river that flows from the mountains. Fewer think about the dwindling snow melt that feeds the rivers. I imagine that small town residents and farmers are more aware of their dependence upon wells and shrinking reservoirs.
California has suffered three years of drought. In spite of recent rains, it’s too soon to know if this will be year four. In my hometown north of San Francisco drought awareness is high. Public bathrooms display signs reminding the public to conserve water. The low level in nearby water district reservoirs is clearly visible to the frequent hikers and bikers. The severity of drought makes an impact when you can see it. I travelled with my husband two years ago in the fall to Yosemite, his first visit there. I had to describe to him what the valley looked like in a normal year. Not a drop of water in Yosemite Falls.
As a child our camping vacations in the Sierras always involved walks to Indian Springs to fill our canvas water bag. There was no sign indicating the way along the faint trail that passed through a meadow bright with alpine flowers and fragrant with the aroma of wild onions. Up a short slope, those of us who knew could locate the old pipe through which poured delicious, sweet, cool, crystalline water. I want my grandchildren and every child to have the experience of seeing where water comes from and hearing the tapping of rain on the roof.