April: Water, Water, Everywhere—If You Can Afford It…



“April is the cruellest month, breeding

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots with spring rain.”

—The Waste Land, T.S. Eliot

Rather than being spooked by Mr. Eliot’s lament that “April is the cruelest month,” I considered its gifts – warmer temperatures, longer days, tender soil in the garden and seeds finally germinating with evidence of my planting efforts.  Not only are my promising broccolis, lettuces, assorted herbs and flora a source of pleasure and personal accomplishment, over time, they contribute to a self-sustaining foods base. Nevertheless, the emergent eco-organisms that will flourish in my modest back-yard, also require for their own nourishment, a constant water supply. And increasingly, our natural water sources have become alarming sites of depletion and legal conflict. All of which brings to mind the wisdom of a renowned cultural thinker, Homi Bhaba, when he affirms, “the site of emergency, is almost always the site of an emergence.”

Within our storytelling borders, polarizing, highly contested legal actions are being played out in state Supreme Courts, as recently discussed on NPR’s The Takeaway with John Hockenberry. “The California Water Wars,” (alarming enough to warrant a Wikipedia page!) is a longstanding, embroiled battle of ranchers, farmers and government water supply agencies that has preoccupied the state since the late 1800s. In a more recent interview that Hockenberry had with water rights lawyers Sarah Klahn of Colorado and Stuart Somach of California, both persuasively represented sovereignty concerns in legal disputes over water rights that are reminiscent of every apocalyptic, biblical parable teeming of droughts, floods, and the parting sea. Offers Klahn:

“The cities will say, ‘You need to protect our water rights, or we’re going to have customers who turn on the tap and discover that there’s no water or see massive increases in their water rates.’ You’re looking at cities that have built a portfolio of water rights in order to be good stewards of the public, and they’re being challenged by agricultural irrigators who either didn’t plan or came to the game late. It’s an unfortunate fact of life that both sides have a lot to lose. It’s a zero sum game.”

Ironic too, that the subject of water, surrounded by these contested arguments of who owns it, who has access and who can deny access, would emerge through Eliot’s dark allegory—“dead land…memory and desire”—during the month of April, when we celebrate Earth Day and many faiths celebrate holidays that call for renewal and cleansing.


These 21st century water rights legalities fetch the greater question–can you ever reasonably secure “rights” to one of nature’s most sublime gifts? Or should we for that matter? A greater unease for me is the distribution of the supply vis a vis the demand, and who are the populations that will be most affected by the “portfolio wars” and rising costs of water pumping rights? (The Rio Grande, for example, and its bordering states, is one of the more contested sites.) Most likely, it will continue to be poor, urban and rural populations and Native American communities in this southwest regions, that already suffer disproportionate indignities.


However the tumultuous squabbles are resolved, for those of us who are animal and plant-based beings, and even greedy lawyers and politicians—the reality is that we all rely on these vital water supplies. So what happens when the lease runs out? Will a legal edict matter? More to consider is what happens when the bodies of water that we celebrate in national choruses ‘from sea to shining sea’, can no longer sustain our rising dependencies?

Maybe it’s not that the month of April is cruel at all—but more that our practices, our behaviors, our judgments are hovering below sea-level. Perhaps instead of wasting efforts litigating ownership, let’s just stop wasting the water. The planet bears the truth of our eco-fictions and in truth, so do we.  Stay green. Stay square. Pb

For more information on ‘Water Shortages…” – http://www.thetakeaway.org/story/fight-over-water-drought/

T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land – http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/176735

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