Conservation Deja Vu in California California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declares a drought emergency for his state. This is far from the first water emergency Californians have faced. A reporter remembers the lifelong habits instilled by the powerful messages of her youth.
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Conservation Deja Vu in California

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Conservation Deja Vu in California

Conservation Deja Vu in California

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ALEX COHEN, host:

Here in California, the message of water conservation has been around for quite some time. This summer that message is getting even louder. That's because this spring was the driest in state in 88 years. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has declared an official drought and once again local water districts are asking Californians to take shorter showers, to water their lawns even less. All this gives NPR's Celeste Headlee a sense of deja vu.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Person: (Singing) Now I'm gonna tell you something that you should know. We oughta save on what makes America grow.

HEADLEE: I ask you would you really want that interrupting Sesame Street every 10 minutes? That's what I endured as a kid growing up during California's drought in the 1970s and much more than that. I remember being bombarded with information about water as a child in the California public schools. So now that we're again teaching our kids to turn the hose off completely after use, I wondered if water conservation education has changed at all, since it was inflicted on me.

Mr. DANNY KLINE (Tour Guide, Tree People, Los Angeles): I certainly think that TV announcements and service announcements, like those Nancy Regan thing that I grew up on kind of were to become jokes and that's not the way to learn.

HEADLEE: I'm following Danny Kline on his echo tour through the canyons of Los Angeles. He works for the group Tree People teaching kids about trees, soil, and water. The bright sunshine is filtering down through the lace work of branches and the faint sound of a brook babbles in the background. It's a far cry from studying evaporation in my airless science class. We made dioramas of the ocean in art out of blue tissue paper and sand. We even took home egg timers to make sure our showers lasted no longer than three minutes, and my teachers weren't nearly as enthusiastic as Danny.

Mr. KLINE: Did we learn about water? Did we learn how important water is? Samuel, what did we learn about water? What did we learn about water? That it's very important right.

Unidentified Boy: Soil.

Mr. KLINE: We learned about soil too.

HEADLEE: But it wasn't just the tedium that turned me off. It was the hypocrisy too. I remember leaving the auditorium after a long film about water conservation and seeing the school sprinklers on during a rain storm. Swimming pools abounded, lawns were watered in the heat of the day and the excess would run through the gutters of my street. I asked Danny if he really thinks his lessons about the water cycle are getting through to the kids.

Mr. KLINE: I don't think there is ever a way to know 100 percent that something you teach a kid is going to stick. But what we can do is we can show, we can give a kid a great time in nature. We can be in nature with the child and lead by example.

HEADLEE: So I suppose the real question is did I learn better conservation habits because of the ads and the dioramas and the essays and the movies? Reluctantly, I have to say yes. I never leave the tap on whilst I'm brushing my teeth or washing my face. I turn the shower off whilst I'm shaving my legs. And I water my lawn just twice a week during twilight hours. I'm not sure it makes me feel better about all those PSA's interrupting Sesame Street though and I would have much rather learned by hiking through Coldwater Canyon. Celeste Headlee, NPR News. Los Angeles.

Mr. KLINE: What are we going to do every morning when we wake up for our little seed? What are we going to do? Water it, right Heather? Say it louder.

Ms. HEATHER: Water it.

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