The challenge

What will it take to get Sacramentans to turn off their damn sprinklers?

Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno. His column, Greenlight, appears weekly in this space.

Our elected officials would like to make Sacramento a more sustainable city. They’ve set goals for us. They want to reduce water use by 20 percent, decrease energy use faster than the population grows and reduce the amount of waste we create.

And then there are the rest of us. We’re the ones who don’t have to worry about campaign donations or long meetings that go on forever. And we are the ones who use the water, drive on the roads, create the waste and use the energy. In the Sacramento region, there are 2 million of us.

Now, this small group of elected officials has to decide how to move Sacramento to a more sustainable future. So far, they have focused on technological solutions and infrastructure expenditures. While they’ve made some good choices, I believe that we can get the biggest bang for our buck by getting our 2 million residents to change some key behaviors. That’s right, I think it’s up to us.

Water experts say that 60 percent of our urban water use is for landscaping, and half of it is wasted. We could reduce our water use by 30 percent simply by not being stupid. Yet there is no effective outreach telling us, “It is winter, please turn off your damn sprinklers!” I believe that if people knew how much damage they were doing by overwatering, many of them would stop. Not everyone, but when you are talking about 2 million people, a small percentage can add up to big results.

The 2 million of us create a whole bunch of waste. It takes hundreds of millions of dollars to collect it and dump it. Could we reduce this waste by 5, 10 or 20 percent? Would our reduced waste not only help save the planet but also save tens of millions of dollars? Would we rather have our tax dollars spent on things more important than collecting our waste? I believe the answer to these questions is an emphatic “Yes!” Yet there is no effective outreach campaign telling us the most important changes we need to make to reduce our individual waste production.

Eating locally grown food is an easy fix with a gigantic payoff. If each of us purchased $2 per week of locally grown food, $2 dollars times 2 million times 52 weeks is $208 million dollars per year. That money stays in the local economy, increasing local business activity and creating new jobs. Not only would we get better, fresher food, we would dramatically help our community.

This year, I challenge our elected officials to ask us to do our part. Educate us on the specific changes you need us to make that will help make a dent in our environmental problems. We, the 2 million residents of Sacramento, are a key part of the problem. It’s time to ask us to become part of the solution.