Evan Ho: The Crow and the Pitcher

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California and the entire West are in the midst of an historic drought, with no end in sight. Evan Ho says we need to save a lot of what, a little bit at a time.

As I was doomscrolling the news on my phone I paused on a story with “Lake Mead” and “Deadpool” in the headline. The accompanying photos of massive bathtub rings and landscapes of cracked lakebed made my jaw drop. I learned some startling statistics from the article: The country’s largest reservoir is at 28% capacity; the power turbines at Hoover Dam will shut down if water levels drop another 100 feet or so, only a 10% decrease from where they are now; the West is in its worst drought in 1,200 years. That’s 12 centuries. A long time.

It’s also been centuries since written versions of Aesop’s Fables first began to spread. One that comes to mind is The Crow and the Pitcher. A thirsty crow finds a pitcher with a little bit of water at the bottom that it could not reach with its beak. Using its wits the crow came up with an idea to drop small pebbles one by one into the pitcher until the water rose high enough for it to drink. Smarts and diligence enabled the crow to survive in the face of water scarcity.

With the two largest reservoirs in California currently around one-third capacity and up to 30 percentage points below historical averages, according to the Department of Water Resources, we in this Golden State should be channeling our most assiduous Aesop crow by exercising easy and common-sense practices.

Taking shorter showers. That’s one pebble. Running dishes and laundry when the machines are full. That’s another pebble. Watering lawns only when and where necessary. Yet another pebble. There are numerous other small stones, representing actions that will have a positive cumulative impact. With steady discipline over time, dropping pebbles into the pitcher, we can have enough water to survive.

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It’s no fun to doomscroll, especially when you see anxiety-producing stories about the part of the country where you love to live. But acknowledging reality is a call to action. Aesop’s animals and insects have something to teach everyone in a variety of situations. Right now I am paying heed to the loud cawing of the crow.

With a Perspective, this is Evan Ho.

Evan Ho works at the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley.