The more I wrote about drought this spring, the more it rained. I considered starting a second career as a contrarian rainmaker. I could lease my talents out to water-hungry towns, an editor suggested.
Still, I wondered what I would write about. The rain gave me more time indoors, even as I fell behind in my outdoor-gardening projects. It also replenished my creek: Even with all my doors closed against the spring chill, I could hear its rushing roar. Overnight, it seemed, my pasture needed mowing. Wild violets, dandelions and wild onions became my newest crops. I set the mower high enough to save the violets. Dandelions can fare as they will, being deep-rooted and stubborn in a way I can appreciate (though I grumble when they insist on colonizing my garden furrows).
But all that rain also got me thinking about Hazel Fobes. I wrote my first Xpress commentary with her feisty spirit in mind: Before passing away earlier this year, she’d been an ever-present, ever-so-politely-in-your-face advocate for water quality and conservation, as well as air quality (she attended more environmental meetings as an octogenarian than most people do in an entire lifetime). I missed her bantam-rooster presence, politely paired with her old-fashioned Virginia charm. Yet when given a chance to share a memory of her at the memorial, I chickened out. I could only think, “She used to bring me brownies at the office.”
Of course, with the brownies would come an exhortation to jump on the latest fiasco involving the now-defunct Regional Water Authority, or the latest environmental quandary. I gobbled up the brownies but didn’t jump on as many meetings and missions as I should have. So I’ll mention here former Asheville Mayor Leni Sitnick’s suggestion that we reinstate the city’s Water Efficiency Task Force—a citizens’ committee that once spearheaded such efforts as distributing free water-conservation kits to residents.
The WET Force lapsed years ago, as the supply of volunteers evaporated and city funding dried up. Could it be revived? A WET Force makes sense in times of drought (and in wetter times too). But a bigger problem remains: Asheville’s mixed messages about water conservation. As Council member Robin Cape reminded her audience at RiverLink’s Community Drought Forum back in February, the city needs to make money selling water in order to fund system maintenance and repairs (and pay off the bonds that finance larger projects).
And when its customers use less water, Asheville may lose money. On the other hand, conserving water reduces the need for developing expensive new water sources as the region’s population grows (the Mills River treatment plant cost almost $20 million to build, and it supplies 5 million gallons per day—about one-quarter of our metropolitan area’s current demand).
So maybe the WET Force will remain a quaint notion from the past. Nonetheless, we could encourage city leaders to create a water-conservation award and name it after Hazel. A lot of people might not remember how she pestered local politicians, such as former Buncombe County Board of Commissioners Chair Tom Sobol or former Asheville Mayor Charles Worley. She pestered them to protect our water and our air. She pestered them to give a damn and do something about it.
So whether you find yourself apathetic or just too busy, save water even when it rains. Speak up about issues close to your heart. I like to believe that our civic leaders still listen.
[Freelance writer Margaret Williams survived eight years of covering Asheville politics for Xpress.]