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I like to think they arrived by cruise ship. Two women, days at sea, the Pacific jostling their crowded ocean liner until it finally came to port in this lush gem of a city, the landscape nothing like back home in Phoenix or Vegas or Sacramento, anywhere drought has turned the citizenship cautious, alert.

In any case, the two tourists—both sporting sun visors, both in tanks and pants decorated like neon-striped deck furniture—halted their descent of the Harbor Steps to behold an unattended water hose hissing and leaking onto the sidewalk.

I never would have noticed the small puddle. I doubt many other Seattleites who work near the Harbor Steps and along the waterfront would have noticed it. There’s always some rivulet or another hydrating the ground beneath our feet (this one appeared to be a hose used to spray wash the cement). But these two honed in like diviners—as if the water conservation mandates back home had tuned their senses to detect trace amounts of wasted H2O.

“I guess there’s no water shortage here,” one said, I think sarcastically. Her companion emitted a breathy chuckle.

I thought of the draft back at my desk, columnist Kathryn Robinson’s take on Governor Inslee’s declaration of a statewide drought emergency. As Robinson points out, here, as in the rest of the west, there is indeed a drought; it’s just that instead of a lack of precipitation we’ve got—thanks to an unseasonably warm winter—an inadequate snowpack, significantly reducing our traditional water supply, which is usually stored as snow in the mountains.

I also couldn’t help but think of our cover story. Some 1,200 miles from its head in Canada to its mouth on the Oregon border, the Columbia S-curves down the middle of the state, carving vertiginous canyons and irrigating some of the best farmland on the continent via nine Washington dams, including the biggie, the Grand Coulee, which also generates power to 11 states. And I thought of all our lakes, some smack in the middle of the city, and Puget Sound and, of course, all the rain.

We’ve got an embarrassment of water riches is what I’m saying. But those riches are deceiving, so much so that a dire warning from the state’s top elected official isn’t always enough to stem the flow of an unused hose. 

Brightly spangled visitors hailing from hot climates know better. We should too.

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