Continuing drought in American West need not be a crisis

drought photo
Photo by Kevin Cortopassi

Australia faced a devastating drought a few years ago. Everyone learned to use less water and catastrophe was averted. Water journalist John Fleck says the American West can (and must) do the same, and doing so might not even be that painful.However, for this to happen, everyone must work together.

We recently bought a house in Vegas and are converting the yard from grass to xeriscaping. This is just a simple example. Not only will the yard look nicer, it will need less maintenance and will use much less water, which saves us money. Vegas already has toilet-to-tap water recycling. Other cities need to do this too. Everyone should have water meters and pricing should be tiered – the more you use, the more expensive it becomes. There are any number of ways water can be conserved and recycled.

A continuing drought will only be a disaster if residents don’t adapt and change.

If we set to squabbling rather than figuring out how to share, we also could crash-land the system in ways that I think are unacceptable – letting Lake Mead drop below Las Vegas’s water system intakes is the system’s most dramatic near term risk scenario, but one also can easily see a not too distant future in which Phoenix and Tucson see their Colorado River water slashed while California loses not a drop. I also don’t think that’s desirable or acceptable, but that’s a realistic scenario if we don’t get the rules fixed soon. In any of those scenarios, the system would no longer retain its basic function and structure.

It would be a failure of resilience, it would not be “equilibrium”, and it would make me sad.

The agricultural Imperial Valley of California gets 20% of all water from the Colorado River. At some point, that will need to change. There’s no way Arizona cities will have mandatory rationing while the Imperial Valley continues to get its full 20%. That simply will not be politically doable. This change will happen, it’s just a question if happens (relatively) peacefully and not when things have already reached crisis.

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