Sunday, May 31, 2015

Social Media Buzzword In California: #droughtshaming

A man documents California water wasting to post on social
media. Image from The Today Show.  
Despite a bit of out of season rain earlier this month, the incredible California drought grinds on with no sign of stopping.

The latest Drought Sign Of the Apocalypse: There is now zero percent of normal snowpack in the Sierra Nevada.

That's the snow that should be there now running into reservoirs to help get California through its normal long dry summer.

There's just little patches of snow up there. Nothing to really help quench California's thirst.

As reservoirs lower and dry vegetation threatens to burst into flames, Californians are being told more and more urgently: Don't waste ANY water.

A few people might not be getting that memo, or feel like they are above water restrictions.

That has led to a new trend in California, says The Guardian newspaper: Drought shaming, or in the hashtag vernacular of Twitter, #droughtshaming.

Probably inevitably, notes the Guardian, the drought shaming has become the latest war between the ultra rich 1 percent, and the rest of us.

Says The Guardian:

"Targets in the past few weeks have included Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, for maintaining obscenely green, lush lawns, visible from the air; Walmart, for sourcing its bottled water from the drought-stricken state at enormous profit; rich Beverly Hills residents, for filling up their pools; and even a local Ritz hotel that was 'water misting' its too-rich-to-be-hot patrons."

Of course, drought shaming via social media is an alternative to getting real data about real water wasters, because in many cases, such data is no longer available.

It's now next to impossible for water managers to get real data on who is actually wasting water and who is not, according to Mother Jones,  originally reported by Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting.  

From Mother Jones:

"In 1997, state legislators voted to weaken an important open government law, the California Public Records Act. The reason: Palo Alto city officials were concerned with tech executives' personal information would be made public, as Reveal reported last month.

The move largely made individual and corporate water use private even though public agencies coudl have simply redacted the sensitive personal information - like home addresses and phone numbers - as they often do when releasing records."

Back in 1991, when California was also going through a bad drought, the Oakland Tribune sued the East Bay Municipal Utility District under the Public Record Act to obtain the list of the biggest residential water users.

The resulting Oakland Tribune story on the biggest residential water users, the district toughened conservation rules.

Now, with the public records laws weakened because of the sensibilities of Palo Alto tech industry executives, no such reporting can so far go on. Which means there are a few residential water wasters out there acting with impunity.

That is, until they are found out by individuals using the #droughtshaming hashtag.

So you see, drought has one other effect. It causes a lot of public discord and disagreement.

Maybe El Nino will bring welcome rains to California by November or so. Until then, it's going to be a long hot California summer. And I'm not just talking about the weather. I'm talking Californians' emotions and politics.

eveal asked East Bay MUD for the names of the top 100 residential water customers today. Even though the public records law was weakened in 1997, the district can give us the information if it determines "the public interest in disclosure of the information clearly outweighs the public interest in nondisclosure."
But the district is refusing to release the information. "For numerous reasons, including the privacy interests of our customers, EBMUD protocol prohibits the disclosure of individually identifiable consumption data of its customers," wrote Rischa Cole, assistant to the general manager of the district, in an email.
So for now, the district's 1.3 million customers in Alameda and Contra Costa counties who all are being asked to use less water don't really know how much their thirstiest neighbors are using, much less who they are.

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