Water on the Oregon coast is taken for granted. We assume that there are unlimited supplies, which, unfortunately, is not the case. We experienced the fourth driest spring in 125 years. The June 21 U.S. Drought Monitor has rated Lincoln County in a moderate to severe drought, with extreme conditions being conceivable by summer’s end. Of the numerous issues facing Oregon’s mid-coast cities, the record low stream flows in the Siletz, Yaquina and Alsea rivers make the likelihood of severe water shortages this summer an immediate concern.
Economists talk about the diamond–water paradox. This is the paradox that although water is more essential for life than diamonds, diamonds are valued more highly because water seems abundant and diamonds are scarce.
Water is the lifeblood of our existence — without it, there can be no life. Past decisions about water have been guided by a simple formula, which weighs human demands for water and builds new water projects to meet the demand. That calculation is simple and works if water is abundant. However, it isn’t as abundant as we once assumed. Population growth is exceeding supply, and it is not feasible to build a water project that meets the demand without irreparable damage to the environment and ecosystems that are also dependent on it.
Going forward, engineered solutions are not enough. We must adopt an ethic of water conservation. It is important for all of us, as consumers of water, to incorporate a water conservation ethic into our personal values.
Transitioning from large construction projects such as dam building and water diversion for a seemingly endless water supply to a culture of scarcity and conservation requires a major change in the way people think about water. This can take decades, and the sooner we realize this and start taking water conservation seriously, the better off we will be as the population grows and climate changes take effect.