Drought Is Here To Stay In Western US How Will The States Adapt?

A parched city of sin

Greater Las Vegas is one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the country, home to over 2.2 million people, and it receives 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 drier future.

“It doesn’t surprise us,” Entsminger said. “Since 2002, our population has increased by almost 50%, or roughly 750,000 people over the past 19 years or so, and over the same period, our aggregate Colorado River depletions have decreased by 23%.

The good news, he said, is that per capita water use is down 40%. Indoor water is recycled in southern Nevada, where residents are paid to replace grass with drip irrigated landscaping.

It’s one of the many ways the region faces a 21st century Colorado River with much less water than it did a century ago.

A man fishes off a water canal in Carson City on April 10 as Nevada enters a drought with water pipes already showing low water levels.Ty O’Neil / SOPA Images / LightRocket via Getty Images

Entsminger said the region needs to “dramatically increase our conservation and rethink how we use almost every gallon of water in order to accommodate this type of future development.”

This includes a new law that will declare more than 30 percent illegal weed in southern Nevada.

“The future of the Colorado River in the 21st century is almost certainly a lot less water than what we had in the 20th century,” he said, and that will require collaboration between the United States and Mexico. “The challenge ahead is how seven states and two countries can all work together to find a way to get by in the decades to come with much less water than we thought we had.”

“The focal point of global warming”

Weed bans won’t save the West, especially a place in the middle of the desert and in full swing like Phoenix.

Phoenix is ​​”the bull’s-eye of global warming, warming and drying out,” said Andrew Ross, professor of social and cultural analysis at New York University and author of a book on the world’s largest Arizona city titled “Bird on Fire: Lessons from the World’s Least Sustainable City.”

Before it was Phoenix, the indigenous Hohokam people lived on the land for centuries. “They had a wonderful irrigation system and they subsisted in the desert with their canal system for over 1,000 years,” Ross said, but a severe drought forced them to abandon the site. Phoenix is ​​built on top of the ruins of the city of the Hohokam people, and the canal system that brings water to Phoenix was built on the path first used by the Hohokam.

“The allegory is built into the city,” Ross said. The test is whether history repeats itself.

An empty irrigation canal at a tree plantation in Corrales, New Mexico on February 17, with the Sandia Mountains in the background. Much of the West is mired in drought, with New Mexico, Arizona, and Nevada among the hardest-hit states.Susan Montoya Bryan / AP

Phoenix is ​​a city obsessed with dominated growth through the real estate promotion of individual houses. “You can’t look to the long term future of these developments without concluding that the challenges will only get worse with each passing year and with each new low density housing subdivision built,” Ross said.

When he was writing his book on Phoenix 10 years ago, someone described Phoenix in Ross as a city of “people who build houses for people who build houses.” The population of the metropolitan area stands at nearly 5 million and is expected to increase by around 2 million over the next 30 years.

Utah is in a similar situation. Its population has grown 18.4% over the past decade, making it the fastest growing state in the country, according to the latest census data.

The state government recently allocated $ 280 million for water projects, including $ 100 million for conservation. Farmers, who consume the most water in the state, no longer flood fields to irrigate them; instead, they use more targeted and less expensive irrigation methods. Utah is so dry that state officials could ban fireworks altogether, fearing wildfires.

“I have already asked everyone in Utah to conserve water by avoiding long showers, fixing leaky faucets and planting water-efficient landscapes. But I’m afraid these efforts will not be enough. protect us, ”Governor Spencer Cox recently said in a statement.

To adapt, cities must recognize that drought “is not a temporary condition that we can expect, but rather something that we have to deal with,” said John Berggren, policy adviser to the water 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 that question, said Berggren.

Panic time?

While it’s easy to imagine drought equating to an apocalypse, experts say what a prolonged drought really requires is an appropriate response and a willingness to adapt.

A report released this spring by Arizona State University’s Kyl Center for Water Policy argues that “the perception that Arizona is the worst state in the West is wrong.”

Irrigated agriculture consumes 74 percent of the state’s water supply. But with the demographic growth, more and more farmland becomes neighborhoods, which reduces water consumption.

“Farming in the Sun Corridor faces a real crisis, but this does not necessarily translate into urban shortages,” the report says. “Of course, the fact that the dominant city in the Sun Corridor is named after a bird that periodically sets itself on fire clearly invites close scrutiny.”

It’s not that Phoenix won’t have water in 20 years, but rather that to make sure, the industry may need to rethink why Arizona, which is predominantly desert, is one of the top three States vegetable market.

Berggren said it was time to start strategizing, suggesting states may have to pay farmers to plow their land without temporarily planting it to destroy weeds and retain moisture in the soil.

“If the situation arises, they might have to buy water rights from farmers, and these farms might shut down,” he said. It is not an idea to be taken lightly, nor to be neglected. “We can have thriving communities, growing communities, diverse communities in the West. We just have to do it in a different way.”

Land owned by the Navajo in Thoreau, NM, June 6, 2019. Rising temperatures associated with global warming have exacerbated drought conditions on Indigenous lands in recent decades.Spencer Platt / Getty Images
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