Editorial: How a good slogan might make water conservation fun for Californians

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With no rain expected until the late fall and regional reservoir levels much lower area water managers would prefer, we sure hope Petalumans understand that the city’s request for voluntary water use reductions is merely a first step.

More is coming. And it will be mandatory. And it may hurt.

“Looking down the road, we’re expecting mandatory reductions coming out from the county, and we’ll probably be implementing those in early June,” Petaluma Public Works Director Jason Beatty said during last week’s city council meeting.

Area leaders are already mulling prying open long-dormant, high-capacity Sonoma County wells that could help ease water supply in Marin County, which famously relied on a temporary pipeline across the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge during the late 1970s drought. Officials there are considering that possibility again, according to the Marin Independent Journal.

Conversations are already happening about struggling area dairy operations, some of which are already trucking in water.

“We’re talking about keeping animals alive,” Sonoma County Supervisor David Rabbitt told the Argus-Courier recently. “If we did nothing, this might be the year we’d lose a half-dozen or more dairies.”

Beatty last week called the situation “stark.” And it is. But there is some fun to be had in this plight.

Petaluma, and Sonoma County, know how to band together. We also know how to have a good time. We say now is the time to dust off some of the great drought and water conservation slogans of the past – and maybe even come up with some new ones.

Sonoma Water already has one: Drought is here. Save water.

It’s simple. It’s short. It communicates the problem and solution and it fits on a bumper sticker. It’s not incredibly catchy, though.

Petaluma City Council member Mike Healy said he’s got an old T-shirt the city handed out that says “Hot Summer Days – Water at Night.”

In typical Petaluma fashion, this one almost has an artistic, musical quality to it. Perhaps Petaluma Pete could stitch together a song.

A half-decade ago, the state’s water conservation program pitched then re-pitched its water-saving slogan to residents, changing “brown is the new green,” a message meant to ease resident concerns about drying lawns, to “fade to gold.”

Gold is better than brown, after all.

Decades before that, though, we used a different color altogether: yellow. As in, “If it’s yellow, let it mellow,” a not-so-subtle guide to toilet flushing protocols. The rest of that slogan, with apologies: “…if it’s brown, flush it down.”

Perhaps the best slogan we could find also came from the 1970s, the golden era for sloganeering. Gov. Jerry Brown, in his first term at the helm, led an attention-grabbing water conservation campaign that, among other things, suggested residents could save water if they’d simply “Shower with a Friend.”

The campaign made national headlines. And, for our money, that’s what slogans are meant to do.

Feel free to send your own water saving ideas – or slogans – to us at

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