Beachcombing, British Columbia. Photograph by Rebecca Lawton.

(Updated from an original posting on January 27, 2014.)

Constantly we hear of things not to do during times of drought. Why not balance them with things TO do? Try doing these actions for a week. See if they make a difference for YOU, in your place in the ecology of things, and whether you feel you can make them last. Some of these are merely gestures, but as Barry Lopez writes in “Drought” (see “H” below), “even as a boy I knew a gesture might mean life or death . . . ”

D: Drink and use fresh water with reverence. Give it your deepest respect. If you know where it comes from, or even if you don’t, rest assured that much of it is needed by fish and birds and other wildlife at the source. In the dry Hopi nation in the American Southwest, it’s said and acted upon that water, when treated as a sacred thing, renders the user holy. It’s a liquid version of karma. Mindful use of water improves our experience of life.

R: Read (or re-read) the bible of water consciousness, Cadillac Desert (Marc Reisner). Reacquaint yourself with Reisner’s projections about water use, now coming true, and speak them to others when you can.

O: Open your heart to the idea that water conservation measures need to be made across the board, not just by the heaviest users. I’ve heard people say they won’t conserve in their homes or yards until the big irrigators—the 80 percent using the most—put the strictest measures in place. So where does leadership start? Why not with the smallest, most mindful actions?

U: Understand what river or well feeds your pipes. Maybe your beloved place is Lake Tahoe at the Truckee River outlet, or the Tuolumne River below Meral’s Pool, or the Merced flowing through Yosemite Valley. The water in those beautiful places is the same water used for drinking water and irrigation somewhere downstream. What starts in the mountains ends up in pipes. If you knew that you could have water-intensive landscaping or a water-fed wild place for your children, but not both, which would you choose?

G: Go to or zoom in on the river that slakes your thirst. In my valley, our water is piped from the Russian River to the north and from the Eel River even farther north. A swim in the Eel or a walk beside its banks is a journey into a sense of what is at stake. When you know where your water comes from, everything changes. You act accordingly.

H: Hear the words of those who have long spoken for water consciousness. Read or reread Barry Lopez, “Drought,” in River Notes: “I awoke one night and thought I heard rain—it was the dry needles of fir trees falling on the roof. . . . I fasted and abstained as much as I felt appropriate from water. These were only gestures, of course, but even as a boy I knew a gesture might mean life or death and I believed the universe was similarly triggered.”

T: Think of and protect water sources for wildlife in the parks and forests near you. Near my home is a park with a reservoir of drinking water that’s clearly marked No Swimmers. And yet hikers and their pets swim in the protected water regularly. Why do people do that with a reservoir of protected fluid, do you suppose?

The mindful use of water in times of little rain is really what is needed even in the wetter years. What’s called for is a change of consciousness and behavior. What a different world it would be if we always, always, kept a wild river or mountain lake in our hearts.


  1. I just heard Brian Richter talk about his book Chasing Water, and it was a big reminder – even here in the East, where water is relatively abundant – of how important it is to be mindful. Thanks for this, Rebecca.

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