Thoughts on Water

Home has meant many things to many people over time. From natural caves to stone cottages, cliff dwellings to modern tracts, homes have provided shelter and comfort throughout the ages.

Early human dwellings were located near the natural resources necessary to sustain life, especially water. This is still true in many parts of the world, but it’s also true that many civilizations have, over time, devised ingenious ways to bring water to their dwellings. But there is often a high price attached to that convenience.

The historical record holds many examples that illustrate how the most well-intentioned water-manipulation schemes ultimately contributed to the demise of each respective culture. The valleys of the Middle East’s Fertile Crescent turned into desert as over-irrigation and evaporation left the land too salty for crops. Closer to home, hundreds of thousands of acres of rich farmland in the American Midwest briefly flourished until over-pumping depleted aquifers that were once thought to be almost limitless, leaving the land pockmarked with dry, grey-brown circles of abandoned fields. There are ample lessons to learn about our use (and abuse) of precious water. Most share the misconception that more is better.

Can we find the right balance that will allow society to flourish and mature while avoiding the long-term consequences of short-term water solutions? Yes. The elegant, simple and least-cost approach can actually yield the best results, in both the near and long-term. This is important since we’re already feeling the effects of drought amplified by climate change. We need solutions that include adaptation to inevitably changing conditions.

It’s time to deepen our appreciation of the miracle that brings clean, potable water into our desert homes. It’s time to accept, respect and protect the beautiful Mojave Desert that helps sustain us. We can do this. In the process we’ll have an opportunity to earn the respect of others around the world. It will take leadership, innovation and a willingness to abandon the business-as-usual approach.

Need green jobs and economic diversity? How about using Nevada’s hydrological challenge to our advantage by developing the best solutions to a serious problem, then exporting our ideas and green, water-efficient products to millions of people around the world who need them? We can hardly afford to pass up such a tremendous opportunity.

It starts with learning from the past so we avoid another more-is-better, complex and expensive water importation system. In the big picture it is not sustainable. Let Nevada’s beautiful valleys, springs and aquifers do what they do best: just be.

It’s time to be perspicaciously honest about our water use and begin a program of deep conservation and efficiency, combined with common sense and public education (including our elected officials). We must be willing to not just think out-of-the-box, but to completely eliminate the box. By rallying around such a program, we can not only solve the water issue but begin to prepare our community for the future impacts of climate change, the paramount issue of our times. Sure, we’ll need to address misconceptions, shift some perceptions and make some changes. But aren’t we already known for that?

Citizen involvement is essential. How many homeowners are actually in favor of rate hikes, to the tune of billions of dollars, for a pipeline that will have such a negative impact on the environment and our northern neighbors? Do we want more insane development, crowded freeways and degraded air quality? After all that, it is likely to result in a future crisis that’s even more severe.

Alternatively, homeowners can become part the solution, not only for our community but for the people of the world. Leading by example is the best way to influence other states to reduce their water needs as well. Plus, a Southern Nevada that shows true commitment by drastically reducing its water needs will have a very strong advantage when it comes to renegotiating water allocations from the Colorado.

We choose: The hard path of big pipes and damaging growth or the soft path of efficiency and innovation. We can learn the wisdom of the Mojave – and we should, it is our home.

Green Living column for Thursday, August 27, 2010, published in the Las Vegas Review Journal: “Mojave Desert deserves respect, protection”