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Commentary: Conservation

By Chris Tucker, KERA 90.1 Commentator

Dallas, TX –

It was an embarrassing moment for both of us. I was out for an early walk last week when I came upon a neighbor, half-hidden between the houses, furtively watering his precious shrubs.

We exchanged glances. My glance said, "Hey, it's not our day to water."

His glance said, "I know, but please don't turn me in."

Well, I didn't turn him in and, luckily, nobody turned me in a few days later when I just forgot that it wasn't our day to water and blithely poured gallons of illegal wet stuff onto a four-foot patch of St. Augustine that was turning a sickly brown. It was an honest mistake - you've got to believe me!

Seriously, many people are miffed and some downright angered by the watering restrictions. We don't like government impinging on what we see as our private domain, and in much of Texas, a lush green lawn ranks right up there with a winning football team and two or three cars as part of one's birthright. I guess it's life, liberty and the pursuit of your own little verdant golf course in the front yard.

Of course, if we're honest, we'll admit that we haven't given much thought to saving water in the past. How many times have you noticed a neighbor's misguided sprinkler heads - or perhaps your own gushing out on a long stretch of sidewalk, or running the morning after a heavy rain? Have you ever used a hose instead of a broom to clean off the patio? I'm raising my hand. Living here most of my life, a nice green lawn seems natural to me, though of course it isn't, strictly speaking. But while I'm aware of what this pleasure costs in water, fuel and time, I'm not quite ready to join the so-called "delawning" movement that replaces turf grass with native plants, such as prairie grass in suburban Chicago and cactus gardens in Tucson.

But whether we're ready or not, change may be on the way. Officials with the North Texas Municipal Water District say that if current restrictions don't produce enough water-saving, a complete ban on landscape watering could be necessary words that strike fear in many a homeowner's heart.

Obviously, we'll have to make whatever changes are needed to maintain an adequate supply of water. But beyond that basic necessity, maybe the water restrictions will help make all of us more aware of wasteful habits. I've spent years lecturing my daughter about wasting food, water, electricity I cringe when she throws away half the pizza she ordered, or walks out of her room leaving three lights, a radio and a fan running. To me it seems not just financially dumb but somehow wrong not to conserve when possible.

But the other day, it hit me: I probably got that "waste not" spirit from my parents, who remembered growing up in the Depression. Back then, if you wasted something on Monday, you might not have enough on Friday. But middle-class kids today don't know much about doing without; they live in a super-sized age of plenty. "Stuff" is everywhere, as witness the highways lined with storage lockers for people whose garages filled up a long time ago. Food is everywhere; you can easily put together a five-course meal in a 7-11. And until recently, cheap gas prices meant you could always load up the van and head off down that endless highway.

It's very hard to live the values born of scarcity until you experience actual scarcity, until resources we always considered cheap and infinite turn out to be expensive and finite. When that happens, we may have to redefine what we mean by a beautiful yard, and trade in that eye-pleasing green carpet for some nice yucca and cactus.

Chris Tucker is a Dallas writer and book editor.

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