Jeffery Cross, E. Spencer Toy
Admit that the West has a problem: Arm yourself with statistics
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
Lake Mead, the largest reservoir on the Colorado River –– and in the U.S. –– is now only 46% full, down about 110 feet since 2000
30 million: Number of Westerners who get their water from the Colorado River.
7: Number of Western states that the Colorado and its tributaries travel through (Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming).
5.2 trillion: Gallons of water allotted to those 7 states.
1,400: Miles the Colorado travels.
18 million: Number of Californians whose water comes from the Colorado (about half the state’s population).
246,000 square miles: Size of the Colorado River watershed.
4 inches: Average rainfall in the majority of the river basin.
17 million: Number of years ago that the Colorado started carving the Grand Canyon.
Next: Water-saving resources
Sponsored by the Water Education Foundation, this California blog is filled with news and links of interest to water geeks―but these days, everyone should be a water geek.
A watering index and calculator can help you curb your addiction. Check out the video tips on how to design and plant California-friendly landscapes.
This site, based in Northern California, is packed with stealable ideas on conservation, landscape design, and maintenance.
Denver residents can check out reservoir levels, get ideas for xeriscaping (with before and after shots), and understand the effects of using recycled water in gardens.
The interactive map of the Water Saver Home gives great ideas for conserving indoors and out.
Resources for the Northwest, with lots of info on Puget Sound. Plus a list of regional water-wise gardens.
A resource guide for homeowners in southern Nevada, including design ideas for backyards that meet specific lifestyle needs: child-friendly, for example.
The Water Conservation Garden at California’s Cuyamaca College includes links to resources like plant lists.
A bit of the basics, plus links to every state’s water websites. It’s based in Phoenix, so the site contains lots of info for Arizona.