The catastrophic shortage of water in California has prompted rationing and the looming prospect of permanent changes to the state’s economy and lifestyle. Yet this week a citizen with a cellphone captured video of California Department of Transportation sprinklers sewing the precious fluid along a freeway…as a light rain fell following a night of showers. Meanwhile, along the freeways, message boards are warning motorists of the importance of responsible water use in the drought, stating “Severe Drought. Limit Outdoor Watering.”
In my business and corporate ethics programs, I often use a hypothetical based on a true incident at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, in which the staff was told that there would have to be a freeze on raises and new hiring because of financial challenges facing the association. They were told that everyone would have to sacrifice for the vital mission of the Chamber. That same week, the General Counsel’s office received a long-delayed remodeling, with expensive new furniture, artwork and carpeting. Morale plummeted, and the absence of trust in management was palpable. I use the incident to demonstrate the consequences of leadership hypocrisy and absence of integrity, when those in power hold themselves to different, and lower, standards than they claim to champion.
What California did was far, far worse.
Such blatant defiance of its own words and policies shows a government that is arrogant, dishonest, and in this case, incompetent. The only possible public response to this is cynicism, distrust, and civil disobedience. There is no excuse for such incompetence, and the only remedy, and it’s not much of one, would be for government officials to make heads roll, apologize profusely, and pledge that the state would live by the same rules it is imposing on business and citizens.
Incredibly, the state’s response was to try to justify watering grass, in the rain, during a drought. “There are a number of reasons why we have to water our vegetation in Los Angeles, a lot of places where the vegetation actually provides erosion control,” Patrick Chandler, a department of transportation spokesperson told KCAL9. “We have to have erosion control there or the vegetation to hold them in place.”
The simple answer to that is: “We don’t care.” Everyone in the state has important uses for water that it is curtailing to cope with the drought. How dare the government so shamelessly act as if its water use should continue as if California was Atlantis, while the peasants take short showers, let their lawns turn brown, and empty their swimming pools? As for the little matter of watering the grass in the rain, the state explains that there are computer programming issues that make it difficult to shut off scheduled sprinkles when Mother Nature is already doing the job.
That’s not an excuse, that’s a confession. “We’re incompetent” is the message. California’s dependence on limited water resources is hardly new: Remember “Chinatown”? Irresponsible planning and inexcusable inattention to detail by government planners and bureaucrats is one reason why California is de-hydrating up now.
Californians have supported the state’s entrenched, profligate, ideologically obsessed and inept government for decades; our sympathy for their plight should be restrained. For me, an incident like the hypocritical sprinklers would be a tipping point, just as that office renovation was when I worked at the Chamber of Commerce.
The question is whether Californians are so devoted to rationalizing Benign Big Brother Government no matter how inept it is that there can’t be a tipping point. If so, they deserve to dry up.