The parable reads like a riddle: two raccoons walked into a yard, looking for a drink . . .
(For an immediate lift, scrowl way down to WHAT’S NEW/LAUGH: a spot-on send-up of the over-allocated Colorado River and Western water policy.)
Plenty of creatures have dropped by the homestead lately in search of oasis: robins and towhees taking cooling baths in the water dishes; quail parents herding their fast-growing young chicks into the shade.
Top visit for the week: two raccoons (one adult, one cub) who paused to sniff at my study door. Their frosted fur blended with the gray, predawn woods. They walked on to the water dish that’s usually guarded by tenacious Steller’s jays. With the jays marauding somewhere else, the raccoons could drink their fill.
Next les deux masqueraders trundled uphill toward the neighbors’ wire fence. The cub, half the size of the parent raccoon, just squeaked under the bottom wire. Turning back, he touched noses with his mom or dad.
The adult hesitated. The cub kept poking his snout between the wires—not about to leave. A tender gesture. The adult eventually flattened low and squeezed under.
No doubt we would host far fewer deer, fox, raccoons, and songbirds if we didn’t offer them something to drink. They’re like many of us: no refreshments, no party.
But they don’t ask a lot. A gallon or so a day for their thirst. Even when our household supplies that, we can keep our consumption around 20 gallons/person/day for both indoor and outdoor use, well below the median California indoor use of 48 gal/person/day.
(Median daily use for indoor plus outdoor is much higher. The average for Sacramento and Placer Counties, for instance, was 313 gallons/person/day in 2020 and, in Kern County, 327 gallons/person/day.)
Old habits die hard, but they can be changed. Take the story of the 2017 water crisis in Cape Town, South Africa, and the phenomenal response of its citizens and government officials to avert “Day Zero.”
“After months of warnings through an anomalously long drought, Cape Town was on the verge of becoming the world’s first major city to run out of water” (MIT Technology Review). Reservoirs were heading toward 13.5% capacity, at which point the city would turn off its taps.
Day Zero never came. Something about the word zero spurred citizens to action. They complied with the 50-litres/person/day (13.21 gallons) restrictions. They installed water-capture systems to prepare for the next time it rained. They collected their shower and culinary water to douse critical plantings.
“By the time the drought eased in 2018, Capetonians had cut their water usage by nearly 60% from 2015 levels” (Princeton University’s Successful Societies). Cape Town became the most water-conserving city in the world. They also used the time they had bought with their Day Zero campaign to install three emergency desalinization plants.
Today Cape Town hasn’t shaken its drought conditions, and many of Cape Town’s people still use minimal amounts of water. They say they haven’t forgotten the fear of having nothing to drink.
The turned-off tap is an unforgettable experience. Once I lived with a well that ran dry, and that moment when the pump brings up nothing is devastating. Maybe that incident constituted my own Day Zero, though California’s certainly looms as we draw down our reservoirs.
For now, waiting for direction from U.S. agencies is like waiting for a train on an abandoned line, now that the highest court in the nation has hamstrung unelected expertise.
So, at our place, we’ve taken matters into our own hands and our own buckets to gather lightly used gray water from the shower and kitchen to meet minimal outdoor needs. The goal: conserve non-recycled water for all to drink.
True, agriculture uses the bulk of our state’s fresh water. (You really do have to watch John Oliver on that. See below . . . ) Farmers, too, have long habits to change, and there are social justice questions to resolve around all of this.
Meanwhile, I can’t stop thinking of those raccoons. When the adult joined the cub on the other side of the fence, they strolled up the hill, chatting like two peers. Maybe talking over the big challenge they’d just overcome? Whatever their topic, they were definitely in it together, with a sweet camaraderie I yearn for more in my own species.
Hi my dearest, well you know Santa Cruz has lots of skunks, raccoons, coyotes, lions, possums, birds, deer, etc. we are in pretty minimal restrictions and the loch lowman reservoir is still 85%+ full. Our garden is fed water, our birdbath gets water for our family of varied birds. I do have a bluebird friend now that comes each day for a bath and peanuts that I put out for her. That’s a lot of fun and we trust each other so I am kind in her head and talk to each other every day. She screeches at me to fill the water up and put out peanuts And I do as she wishes. It’s not a raccoon family but still a touch stone and beginning of a wonderful relationship ♂️
Awesome my dear and honored Scott! You have a way with the wild, and I am not ay all surprised by your beautiful friendship with the bluebird. They are such lovely creatures. You know how to pick em! With a huge hug, Becca