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I Was Never a Water Fan

Whenever someone brought up the topic of water (or, more accurately, the lack of water) as a possibility for a documentary or a feature for Full Focus , my eyelids would start to droop. This indifference persisted in spite of my near-adoration of Jon Else's wonderful four-part public television series Cadillac Desert , which was all about water and the West. Yes, yes, I knew water was important, scarce, political, whatever. But I was dead certain water was a terribly boring topic, one to be taken up only when there was no choice.

So one day, I was given no choice. The assignment (part of Tapped Out , an Envision San Diego special on water that airs Thursday Oct. 18th at 8 p.m.) was to put 200 years of San Diego water history -- drought and flood, plans and schemes, usage and policy -- into perspective. And I was to do it in four minutes and 45 seconds.

The experience was like finding out that the quiet neighbor you thought was a CPA really rustles cattle for a living. Water and how we live with it is every bit as interesting as human beings are.


I discovered that water was always a problem in this region, both too much of it and too little. I learned who was good at conserving it (the Kumeyaay, the mission padres) and who was good at wasting it (Alonzo Horton). I learned that the quest for a permanent source of good water for San Diego seems to have gone hand-in-hand with the desire to have a railroad run through it. I found out that there were dozens of discoveries of "permanent" sources of water for San Diego, some of which tasted bad and smelled worse. I learned that there is no such thing as going too far for water and generally no concern about whether other people have any. If we can take all the water before it gets to the river mouth, great. If you happen to live where the Colorado River ends, too bad.

And most of all, I learned that if we are going to continue to live in paradise, to keep building and growing, we must finally learn to adapt to the climate we love and live with the most stringent conservation measures we can devise.

We have no choice.