By Charles Layton
We have now closed our latest Blogfinger poll, the one that asked people whether they would violate the outdoor watering ban for the sake of their withering flower gardens. (Go here to read the poll results and reader comments.)
The final results: 81 people said yes, they would violate the ban. 30 people said they would observe the ban. And 23 joined me in choosing the third option: “paralyzed with indecision.” So, all in all, only a meager 22 percent voted in favor of honoring the demands of the county government and the New Jersey American Water Company.
It’s well to remember that these little polls of ours have no scientific validity whatsoever. Still, the numbers, coupled with many of the resulting comments from participants, do seem to reinforce the notion of a prevailing cynicism about the entire matter of the water crisis.
It’s common knowledge that large segments of our citizenry do not trust many (perhaps most) of the major institutions of American society. Government at all levels, major corporations in general, Wall Street, the oil and gas industry, the banking industry, the Catholic Church (because of its horrific sex scandals), the news media – the list goes on.
And now, it seems, NJAWC has taken its place on that list.
After a “water emergency” and a ban on outdoor water use were first announced, on June 29, neither the NJAWC nor any branch of government was willing to share much meaningful information. The public wasn’t told the cause of the water main break that created the problem. We weren’t informed of the public health issues – whether the ban on drinking from our taps was due to an actual or merely a potential contamination of our drinking water. We weren’t told much, either, about the need for the outdoor watering restrictions. Instead, the NJAWC spoke to us, via robocalls, in short bursts of euphemistic corporate-speak (referring to the water main break, for instance, as “this event,” as if it were something akin to the Ladies Auxiliary’s used book sale.)
Their reticence bred suspicion. Quite a few Blogfinger commenters concluded the worst. “Gross negligence on the part of NJAWC is a terrible reason to kill our gardens,” one person wrote.
Another thing that fueled people’s cynicism was the fact that the ban was blithely ignored by people in positions of responsibility – such as the borough government of Bradley Beach. Although the county, the governor of New Jersey and some local government officials declared that the ban would be rigorously enforced, it obviously was not. That lack of enforcement has been well documented on this website, and many of you saw flagrant examples with your own eyes.
Thus, much of the moral high ground was captured by those who advocated defying the ban. “Civil disobedience for the cause of maintaining beauty is both a wonderful and admirable behavior,” one of our commenters wrote. Another went further: “Only fools follow someone else’s rules.”
On the other hand, it was inspiring to read comments by some of those who, in spite of all doubts, went to great lengths to follow the rules. “I used the water left in the pot after boiling corn to water my flowers,” one woman wrote. Another wrote that she had been “collecting the water we usually waste waiting for it to reach the right temperature out of the faucet or the shower head. It’s close to a gallon each shower, enough to dribble on my flowers and perk them up. Keep a bucket next to the shower and a pot next to the sink.”
During the writing of this editorial, I solicited Paul Goldfinger’s thoughts, and he told me this in an email: “It occurs to me that in America, the stability of our country depends on the ‘rule of law.’ We cannot enforce our laws effectively without the honesty and law-abiding qualities of our citizens. If we can rationalize breaking small laws (which is something most of us do at one time or another), can that mind-set become infectious and lead to a breakdown of society? Am I overreacting to the water ban revolution? I really am not sure, but — full disclosure — we watered our flowers.”