“There’s been a state effort to figure out which communities are really in danger of losing their community water supplies. Poor communities in the sticks are a lot more threatened than wealthy communities in urban areas,” said James Quinn, an ecologist at the University of California, Davis.

Governor Jerry Brown, who favors tiered rates as a conservation tool, has directed water agencies to develop rate structures that use price signals to force conservation. This directive is part of the governor’s executive order that calls for a mandatory statewide reduction of 25 percent in urban water usage.

Most of the urban water agencies statewide use tiered rates in an effort to encourage conservation, forcing heavier users to pay more. A legal challenge defeated aggressively tiered rates in San Juan Capistrano and has water agencies scrambling to find an effective, fair system which encourages conservation and charges heavy users for a greater cost of supply and increased system burdens.

“Most of the monitoring of what’s happening with the water supply comes from things easy to monitor: reservoir measurements, snowpack measures or plane/satellite radar scans,” Quinn told The Tidings.

“Gauging stations in streams and rivers look at the level of water and rate of flow. Water models then determine how much water is moving through the system.” Quinn noted that measuring groundwater is more difficult, with more guesswork involved.

According to the Department of Water Resources’ November 2014 document, “Public Update for Drought Response,” the Department of Water resources found that, “based on the available data, there are many high and medium priority basins that experienced spring 2014 groundwater levels which rank in the lowest 10th percentile of measurements.”

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who had already called for a 20 percent reduction in Los Angeles’ water usage by 2017, praised Governor Brown’s directive. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power is preparing a revised rate system that would make high water use more costly than it is now.

“One of the most effective actions people can take is to let their lawn go dry, or replace water thirsty landscaping,” Quinn said. He believes that if everyone complied, this one action alone could make the 25 percent reduction.

“With no way to enforce it I have my doubts that will make up anything more than maybe 10 percent,” said Quinn. “These restrictions have to have a fair degree of voluntary cooperation and we’ll see if that develops.”

nA Franciscan approach

Eight hundred years ago, Saint Francis, the patron of the environment, recognized the face of God in creation and fundamentally changed his life.

Franciscan Friar Keith Warner said that we, too, have to discover that connection to God through the natural world to embrace change and regain a true sense of what it means to be human.

“We hear all these teachings on Sunday, but they don’t affect us because we have fractured our identity,” said Brother Warner, assistant director of education at the Center for Science, Technology and Society at Santa Clara University. “Experiencing God in nature is not only the Catholic thing to do, but it is also the first step to caring for creation.”

A hurdle Brother Warner identified is that our identities as Americans become stronger than our identities as Catholics.

“Until we recognize and reconcile that, it is hard to want to change. When economy, technology and capital accumulation are more important than ethics or humanity, favoring these at the expense of what it means to be a faithful disciple of Jesus is one of the root problems,” the brother said.

“The best way to approach that is to think of the Catholic Church as Catholic, universal, holistic and not think in narrow either/or terminology, which is the way that contemporary political discourse has entered the Church,” he said.

Brother Warner believes we need a “whole person” conversion.

“People who are deeply invested in business as usual want to make sure that these things are kept separate and that ethics is kept ‘in a box’ as private Sunday behavior, as opposed to a whole person conversion experience,” he said.

“Franciscan tradition ties into the ancient pre-monastic tradition of the desert fathers of asceticism and love of creation, of prayer in nature, getting back to the earliest forms of Christianity. It is both ancient and modern,” Brother Warner said.

“Saint Francis is an example of a people who went out into the wilderness to pray and to seek the face of God,” he said. “He did that in addition to preaching in towns and praying in churches, also spending time in nature.”

Brother Warner believes it is a wise choice to rediscover these traditional practices in our times of ecological crisis.

“Pope Francis is trying to shake things up and help people look at old ways of doing things through fresh eyes, and through the eyes of those who are most marginalized,” he said.

The Franciscan recommended going outside, seeking the face of God in nature as Saint Francis did. Simple activities like gardening, walking in the park or in nature, praying outdoors and practicing contemplative prayer are ways to help us “more fully express love and gratitude to God for the gift of creation,” he said.

“It’s not any one individual. It’s all of us together.” Brother Warner said. “This is where the Catholic communitarian vision is important.”

nTowards a Catholic ecology

The “greening” of the Church under the guidance of its recent popes “is driven by moral necessity and grounded in love,” Brother Warner said. He also sees it as being grounded in fidelity and gratitude of what God has done through creation.

Pope Francis is expected to release the first encyclical on the environment in the history of the Catholic Church this summer. The encyclical is widely anticipated, with much speculation on what it will contain.

“I expect it is going to lift up the moral dimension of ecology and talk about the care of creation itself,” said Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of the Diocese of Stockton, former chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.  

“When we talk about the care of creation, we are not just talking about the earth, we are talking about humankind; we are talking about a human ecology,” Bishop Blaire said in an interview with The Tidings.

Pope Francis has decried the “culture of greed” one that has become a “throw-away culture.” He recently said that “God created the world as a beautiful garden and asked us to care for it.”

Catholics have a moral and ethical responsibility for it. “Failure to care for the environment is a betrayal of God,” he said.

“We are responsible. When we are taking care of this world that is entrusted to us, we are talking about creating a sustainability to live and for future generations. We are talking about intergenerational responsibilities,” Bishop Blaire said.

“We have an obligation to respect and protect life from its moment of inception though death, and that moment can be quite long in terms of a human life,” he said. “We live our lives on this earth. If we abuse the earth, we are not respecting human dignity or the common good.”

Betsy Reifsnider, an ambassador with Catholic Climate Covenant, looks at the crisis from a faith perspective.

“We are all the Body of Christ. In a way, we as Californians are one body and our rivers are our circulatory system. It does not do any good to start pitting us against each other. I think every sector and every person has a responsibility and a role to play,” Reifsnider said.

“It is important that we look closely at each community and each industry,” she said. “All these issues need to be looked at through the traditional Catholic lens of prudence, poverty and the common good.”

Poverty asks us to look at how this is affecting the poor and the most vulnerable among us.

“They sometimes bear a greater burden when they cause less of the problem, such as with climate change,” Reifsnider said.

The common good asks us to look honestly at what is the best for everyone — to think “we” rather than “me,” Reifsnider said.

Prudence asks us to be thoughtful, deliberate and have a reasoned basis for taking or avoiding action to achieve a moral good.

“This crisis in California forces all of us to stand honestly before God about how we care for the world. How we treat God’s creation, in a way, is how we treat God. We all have to be more conscious,” Bishop Blaire said.

“How can I be responsible in the community where I live? Am I using good stewardship in the exercise of water?  Am I contributing in any way to pollution? How can I reduce that?” Bishop Blaire said.

The questions reveal values that recognize creation as a gift from God, a gift that’s shared especially with the poor.

“I think it has always been our tradition as Catholics to trust in God, and then to act with this trust in God,” said Bishop Blaire, encouraging prayer for adequate rain. “We trust in God, and then we have to act responsibly in our lives.”