A parched sin city
Greater Las Vegas is one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the country, home to more than 2.2 million people, and it gets just over 4 inches of rain in a good year.
About 90 percent of the water comes from Lake Mead, the reservoir on the Colorado River formed by the Hoover Dam, which is currently 36 percent full.
The drought has been so persistent that the Southern Nevada Water Authority and many other groups in the region have spent the past 20 years preparing for a dry future.
“It’s not creeping up on us,” Entsminger said. “Since 2002, our population has increased close to 50 percent, about 750,000 people in the last 19 years, and over the same period, our total discharge from the Colorado River has dropped 23 percent.”
The good news, he said, is that water consumption per capita Population has fallen by 40 percent. Indoor water is recycled in southern Nevada, where residents are paid to replace grass with dripping landscaping.
It’s one of the region’s many ways to confront a 21st century Colorado river with significantly less water than it had a century ago.
Entsminger said the region needs to “drastically increase our conservation and reconsider how we use almost every gallon of water to meet that kind of future development.”
It includes a new law that will declare more than 30 percent of the grass illegal in southern Nevada.
“The future of the Colorado River in the 21st century is almost certainly significantly less water than we had in the 20th century,” he said, and it will require cooperation between the United States and Mexico. “The challenge for us is how seven states and two countries can all work together to figure out how we can cope in the coming decades with significantly less water than we thought we had.”
‘Bull’s-eye of global warming’
Grass bans do not save the West, especially a place that is in the middle of the desert and growing in population, like Phoenix.
Phoenix is ”the bull’s-eye of global warming, warming and dehydration,” said Andrew Ross, professor of social and cultural analysis at New York University and author of a book on Arizona’s largest city called “Bird on Fire: Lessons from the World’s Smallest Sustainable City . “
Before it was Phoenix, the indigenous Hohokam people lived in the countryside for centuries. “They had a wonderful irrigation network system, and they lived in the desert with their canal network for more than 1,000 years,” Ross said, but severe drought forced them to abandon the site. Phoenix is built on top of the ruins of the city of Hohokam people, and the canal system that brings water to Phoenix was built on the path first used by Hohokam.
“The allegory is built into the city,” Ross said. The test is whether the story repeats itself.
Phoenix is a growth-obsessed city dominated by single-family home development. “You cannot look at the long-term future of these developments without concluding that the challenges only get bigger with the year and with each new subdivision of low-density channel built,” Ross said.
When he wrote his book about Phoenix 10 years ago, someone described Phoenix for Ross as a city of “people who build homes for the people who build homes.” The metro area’s population is almost 5 million and it is expected to grow by around 2 million over the next 30 years.
Utah is in a similar situation. Its population grew by 18.4 percent over the past decade, making it the country’s fastest growing state, according to the latest census data.
The state government recently allocated $ 280 million for water projects, of which $ 100 million is for conservation. Farmers who eat the most water in the state no longer flood fields to irrigate them; instead, they use more targeted and less wasteful irrigation methods. Utah is so dry that officials can completely ban fireworks for fear of forest fires.
“I have already asked all Utahns to save water by avoiding long showers, fixing leaky faucets and planting aquatic landscapes. But I fear that these efforts alone will not be enough to protect us,” Gov. Spencer Cox recently in a statement.
To adapt, cities must recognize that drought “is not a temporary condition we can expect to go away, but rather something we are dealing with,” said John Berggren, water policy adviser for Western Resource Advocates, based in Boulder, Colorado.
What does a sustainable Colorado River system look like? “We have a long way to go” to answer this question, Berggren said.
While it is easy to imagine that the drought spells apocalypse, experts say what prolonged drought really requires is the appropriate response and willingness to adapt.
A spring report from Arizona State University’s Cooling Center for Water Policy claims that “the perception that Arizona is the worst off in the western states is wrong.”
Water agriculture uses 74 percent of the state’s water supply. But as the population grows, more farmland becomes neighborhoods, reducing water consumption.
“Agriculture in the solar corridor is facing a real crisis, but that does not necessarily mean a shortage of cities,” the report said. “The fact that Sun Corridor’s dominant city is named after a bird that periodically withdraws itself clearly calls for investigation.”
It’s not that Phoenix does not want water in 20 years, but rather that to ensure that it does, the industry may need to consider why Arizona, which is mostly desert, is one of the three largest market-producing states.
Berggren said it is time to start strategizing, suggesting that states may have to pay farmers to plow their land without sowing it temporarily to destroy weeds and retain moisture in the soil.
“If push comes to push, they may have to go out and buy water rights from farmers, and those farms may go out of business,” he said. It is not an idea to take lightly, nor one to disregard. “We can have thriving communities, growing communities, different communities in the West. We just have to do it a different way.”