Jeffery Cross, E. Spencer Toy
Admit that the West has a problem: Arm yourself with statistics
- California is in its third year of drought.
- The Colorado River has run low 9 out of the last 10 years.
- By 2050, the Sierra Nevada snowpack
- By 2050, the Sierra Nevada snowpack is projected to be depleted by at least 25% because of climate change.
- Urban growth has reduced the groundwater feeding Arizona’s San Pedro River by 30%. The river already runs dry in places.
Look for inspiration: Dry Las Vegas got support from its innovative water district
Fly into Las Vegas, and you see a turquoise archipelago of pools glinting in the sun. You might think this desert city is gambling with its water supply like a loser at the craps table. You’d be wrong. Aridity is the mother of invention. Even though Las Vegas’ water use remains high ― mostly because the region gets only 4.2 inches of rain a year ― no area of the country has worked harder to use water wisely.
“Sadly, most of us need to be threatened by a crisis to realize the things we’re doing aren’t always right,” says Doug Bennett, a conservation manager for the Southern Nevada Water Authority, which serves Vegas and the surrounding valley. Many cities and utilities offer resources like plant guides and classes. Here’s what worked for the SNWA:
Build smart Homebuilders are encouraged to install water-efficient landscaping and appliances in new houses.
Hold a contest Each year, the SNWA recognizes homes with the best water-smart, desert-friendly landscapes.
Limit the lawn New homes can’t have a lawn in the front yard; appropriate desert landscaping is mandated instead. Lawns can occupy 50% of the backyard.
Cash for grass For existing homes, the Water Smart Landscape Program offers rebates of up to $1.50 per square foot to remove existing turf and replace it with desert landscaping and upgraded irrigation. One study showed that the average participating household saves 55 gallons of water per square foot of turf removed.
Just as important, Bennett says, is residents’ attitude change. “If people believe in what they’re trying to accomplish, they’re going to do much more than laws and regulations would do by themselves.”
Next: Considering the Colorado River