It’s become a bit of sport here in the bone-dry Sierra Nevada to take potshots at the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.
Competitive water Scrooging.
The Challenge, for the un-initiated (and, Hell, how did you find this website? Is this the only thing you turn aside your rock to do?) involves yuppies dumping buckets of ice on their heads and challenging their friends to do the same in order to raise money for ALS research.
Ice bucketeers donate $10, those who pass on the challenge donate $100.
They post a video of the act and call out the challenged.
To date, the two-week-old campaign has raised more money for research into the 100 percent fatal neurological disease than was raised in all of 2014.
It’s probably a little stupid (full disclosure, yours truly took the challenge this week), potentially narcissistic (Millennials can’t even do charity work without being in-your-face assholes about it), and incredibly successful—$23 million raised off the strength of 1.2 million-plus viral videos and accompanying donations to the ALS Association.
A chorus of voices here in the Sierra are calling the videos a waste of water. They’re rising as one—three years into a massive drought when the results of ground-breaking climate change, Colorado River water usage and California groundwater studies are being released monthly—to take a shit on some do-gooders in the name of the environment.
These Titans of Takes point out that, hey, numbnuts, we’re in a drought, stop pouring that gallon of water on your head!
Are there smarter ways for people to ice bucket challenge in the west? Probably.
Our lakes, rivers and the Pacific all approximate ice water nicely and dumping a bucket on your head while standing in one would have no more impact than swimming.
But, this group of tough-guy columnists was apparently waiting for just the right target in the bucketeers, while I’d argue the exact right one was under their noses the entire time: Golf.
Golf courses are ubiquitous in the West—every Joe in the 80s, 90s and pre-Recession aughties with a few dollars to his name and a gaggle of hungry investors at his beck erected a course and demarcated its edges with subprime financed McMansions, all under the view of a local mountain.
Ski resorts went all-in on golf to keep the coffers full in the offseason, areas of northeastern California you couldn’t discern from the setting of Deliverance got a touch of class when a course and a Frank Lloyd Wright knockoff clubhouse came to town.
Golf wastes water like shotgunning wastes beer—if you never bothered to drink the suds. According to some studies, your average American course uses 300,000 gallons per day.
Ramp that up to a few million in the Phoenix area (57 courses) or California’s Coachella Valley (120-plus courses). For reference, desert golf courses consume enough water, on average, to slake the thirst, clean the dishes and wash a family of four for four years.
And, it’s not like that water drops back into groundwater tables or flows into streams. A majority goes into grass growth—which is under constant demand from mower blades—and the rest is lost to evaporation.
Given those facts, the negative “ice bucket challenge” reactions are, best-case, lazy and misinformed but well-intentioned. Worst-case, they’re lazy and mean, a response to a problem that zeroes in on helpful jesters raising a few million for research while the duffers turn the spigot up to full-throttle on a parched landscape.