by Robert Wilkinson
The American West is drying up, and the days of wasting water are gone. It’s about time! Even if you don't live in the US, this is going on many places in our world. We can no longer take clean water for granted.
In this LA Times story by John Glionna titled Drought – and neighbors – press Las Vegas to conserve water we read that “An ongoing drought and the Colorado River's stunted flow have shrunk Lake Mead to its lowest level in generations. The reservoir, which supplies 90% of Las Vegas' water, is ebbing as though a plug had been pulled from a bathtub drain. By mid-April, Lake Mead's water level measured just 48 feet above the system's topmost intake straw.”
From the story:
The Colorado River provides water for 40 million people across the Southwest — the majority of them in cities such as Las Vegas. The region's population is expected to almost double by 2060. In that time, Las Vegas will gain 1 million residents, forecasters say.
Many water experts say Las Vegas needs to immediately take a series of no-nonsense steps to help control its water shortage: Cut indoor as well as outdoor use; charge much more for water and punish abusers with precipitously higher rates; and start disclosing the rate of a neighbor's water use in residential bills to create more social pressure to conserve.
"At some point, you have to live within your means, but that doesn't fit with the image of Las Vegas," said Steve Erickson, Utah coordinator for the Great Basin Water Network, an advocacy group. "These people need to remember that it's a city built upon an inhospitable desert. What were they thinking?"When it comes to water, this city has long been at a disadvantage: A 1922 Colorado River water-sharing agreement among seven Western states — one still in effect nearly a century later — gives Southern Nevada the smallest allotment of all: just 300,000 acre-feet a year. An acre-foot can supply two average homes for one year.
Worse, unlike such cities as Phoenix and Los Angeles, Las Vegas has just one major water source — Lake Mead — putting it most at risk during a prolonged drought and dwindling lake water reserves. The city receives a scant 10% of its water from underground local aquifers.
Officials say Las Vegas uses only 80% of its Colorado River allotment and is banking the rest for the future. But critics say that even if the city taps all of its entitled water, that amount would still not be enough to meet its needs in a prolonged drought. And after years of recession, building is starting to come back here, leaving many to ask: Where are all these new residents going to get their water?
"How foolish can you be? It's the same fatal error being repeated all over the Southwest — there is no new water," said Tim Barnett, a marine physicist at UC San Diego's Scripps Institution of Oceanography and coauthor of two reports about dwindling Western water resources. His research concluded that without massive cutbacks in water use, Lake Mead had a 50% chance of deteriorating to "dead pool" by 2036. That's the level at which the reservoir's surface drops beneath Las Vegas' lowest water intake.
This is happening more places than are listed here. Austin, TX, and the rest of the towns in Central Texas are also running out of water due to overdevelopment coupled with long term drought conditions no one anticipated twenty to forty years ago. It seems the wells are all running dry due to decreased aquifer recharge. That’s happening all over North America.
Several of the largest cities of North America are ALL dependent on the Colorado River. Los Angeles, San Diego. Las Vegas. Phoenix. Tucson. All these and more are profoundly affected by how much water comes each year, and how much is used. A thin snowpack and it’s an emergency for millions of people.
Eventually we’ll understand that rainwater collection is the urgent need for many parts of our world. That will be a boom industry in the future, as will modifying current houses and putting in greywater irrigation systems. That alone saves thousands of gallons a year while allowing for landscaping.
Of course, we can all begin today to examine our water use, and find ways to conserve. Even taking slightly shorter showers (say that 3 times quickly!) once or twice a week helps conserve hundreds of gallons a year. The same with doing dishes by hand, and putting one or two quart jars in the toilet tank (bricks aren’t good because they break down and jam the plumbing, but filled glass jars are no problem).
Unfortunately, many others cities around the world are also facing shortages of water, due to global climate change. This is one of the most urgent needs of our times, since everyone needs a clean water supply. We have now hit an era when we can no longer waste water, or believe we can pollute it indefinitely with no consequences. Welcome to the 21st century.
© Copyright 2014 Robert Wilkinson