Editorial: Water needs a price on a par with its value

An irrigation system at work on Kingman Farms.

Photo by JC Amberlyn.

An irrigation system at work on Kingman Farms.

About an hour past sunset I stepped out the back door for some quiet time and was startled to see someone in one of the lawn chairs. I couldn't make out his features due to the dark, but when he spoke I knew who it was.

"You've made yourself a little bit of a mess back here, haven't you?" Cliff Cerbat said as an introduction.

I was immediately defensive. OK, the backyard isn't a showcase, but for the most part the gravel is spread fairly evenly and the trees haven't died from neglect.

And there are kid toys everywhere, big and small. My idea of a good backyard.

"What are you talking about?"

"What's everyone talking about?" Cerbat retorted as he spread his arms as if taking in the view. "Water. Everyone's worried about the water supply and you put Sherwood Forest in your backyard."

I had to admit the tree thing had gotten out of hand. We started with pines in a nice, organized fashion, then started finding blank spaces and planting more, including a number of fruit trees.

You can always tell when it's time to harvest the apricots, plums, peaches, apples, figs and pears. That's when the birds that hang around the house look especially plump.

"OK," I said. "You have a point."

"No," Cliff replied. "I'm trying to make the point you didn't make a few weeks back when you first addressed this issue."

"But I didn't make a point. I only said we needed to avoid rash solutions that we'd regret later."

"Yeah, and you also suggested consulting with experts," Cerbat cackled. "I admit it makes sense to talk to people who drill water for a living, but that's the wrong step with a crowd that's scared to death they're going to turn on the water and nothing'll come out of the faucet. Heck, someone might accuse you of having a well-driller in the family."

"Someone did," I admitted. "My brother tunes pianos. Maybe I should have suggested consulting with him."

"That would make as much sense as the column you ended up with," Cerbat said.

"OK, Mr. Big Ideas," I said as I put my hands on my hips. I used to adopt that stance and suck in my stomach just to show I'm serious. Lately, I given up on sucking in the gut. "What would you do."

"Same thing you would," Cerbat said. "First, if water is so precious, charge a fee that represents that preciousness."

"Right," I said. "The city should take the first step, one that wouldn't harm people who use very little water to begin with. But people with ..." my voice trailed off.

"But people with a bunch of trees who use more water will have to pay more," Cerbat finished the sentence for me. "And what's that over there. Grapes? Berries? Flowers? Kid, you're gonna be paying through the hose. Get it? Nose, hose."

"To continue," I said after I feigned nausea from the pun. "I don't know if it's legal or not, but we've got to put meters on wells and charge appropriately. If you're using a half-million gallons a month, you need to pay for it."

"Looks like Budweiser won't be setting up a brewery here," Cerbat said.

"And they shouldn't be," I replied. "That makes as much sense as farming. Now if it was Yuengling ..."

"Is that the circus guy?" Cerbat asked.

"You're thinking Ringling and I'm thinking beer."

"Good idea," Cerbat said. "I'll have what you're having."