No good deed goes unpunished, especially when it comes to "saving" the environment and battling climate change.
Learning this difficult lesson currently is liberal California Gov. Jerry Brown, who is experiencing a spate of unintended consequences from his sweeping water restrictions in hopes of battling his state's extreme drought conditions of the last few years. But what has happened as a result of those restrictions is having adverse effects on the environment and the public's pocket books: foul-smelling air, clogged sewage drains, thousands of dead and dying trees, taxes rising, and utility rates about to go up.
It's the kind of consequences that University of California at Davis professor George Tchobanoglous says no one thinks about. "It really is a double-edged sword," he added.
His expertise in civil and environmental engineering has helped him pinpoint a major problem with Gov. Brown, or anyone for that matter, asking citizens to conserve water: the utility systems already in place require higher volumes of water to work efficiently.
“You have solids that you flush and there’s not enough water to carry the material," Tchobanoglous said. So, not only does the material sit and fester, it also begins to corrode pipes. It's why, he says, low-flush toilets might be a great idea for saving water but are terrible for flushing waste properly. Most city sewage systems are designed to receive around 120 gallons of wastewater per household per day in order to completely flush out all the sludge. However, under water restrictions in California, city systems are receiving just 50 gallons per household, the professor said.
And surely upsetting the same environmentalists who are applauding Brown's efforts, Californians are noticing thousands of trees lying dead and dying around their neighborhoods as garden watering by residents, businesses, and local governments has slowed tremendously.
The Washington Post highlighted another University of California researcher who described what he's seeing around town: browning yards, dead redwoods along the highway and in areas where they can no longer provide shade or better air quality, affecting residents and wildlife.
"I feel sorry for the trees," he added.
Utility companies are feeling the pinch as well. Now that they are sending less water to customers who are abiding by orders to cut back, they have lost over a half a billion dollars in less than a year, which will soon lead to a rise in rates.
And for another kick in the teeth to citizens, a program designed to give them monetary incentive to change over their lawns to minimal-water landscapes has backfired and the IRS is considering it taxable income. More from WaPo:
As of February, the state doled out $22 million in rebates to homeowners who swapped their grass turf for mulch and less-thirsty plants. The Metropolitan Water District, the state’s largest water supplier to utilities from Los Angeles to San Diego, gave away $340 million.
Partly because of the rebate from the water district, Tina House, a Pasadena resident, had the grass pulled out on the lot of her two-story colonial revival last summer.
“You say $4,400 — oh, that’s a big chunk of change,” House said. “Nowhere did it mention that we can possibly be on the hook for taxes. My gardener said, ‘Okay, we’re going to do this.’ The next day, my girlfriend [who did the same] calls me and says, ‘Oh my God, we’re going to have to pay taxes on this.’”
House said her tax bill from the rebate is $1,400. “They’re being taxed for doing the right thing,” argued Dave Todd, land and water use program manager at the state Department of Water Resources.