Thoughts on Water Use in the Mojave Desert

InHome Display Image courtesty of Badger Meter, Inc.Recent malfunctions in our home’s irrigation system have wreaked havoc with my water efficiency efforts. The real problem wasn’t the leak, sometimes things happen and occasional maintenance is necessary. The issue was that the leak went undetected until weeks later when the water bill showed up.

Water is a basic human right and is priced relatively low for a good reason: We need it to survive. But one unintended consequence is that we also tend to take it for granted, even here in the parched Mojave, the driest desert on the continent and one of the driest areas in the world. In a place where we should value every drop of every gallon, it’s still considered acceptable, even normal, to detect leaks after the fact. I can only imagine how many others have the same experience every month and the cumulative waste it represents.

The leak incident sparked my curiosity about real-time water usage monitoring so I’ve started looking for solutions. I found that water utility customers in Boulder, Colorado can purchase inexpensive wallet-sized devices that monitor home water usage in real time. They stick to the refrigerator. Imagine how much water could be saved if we could do that here. Not only could we detect and repair leaks much sooner, but real-time feedback is a good tool for honing better habits too. Alas, there’s always a catch. From what I’ve learned so far, the water meters most common to Southern Nevada homes are not compatible with existing, low-cost remote displays.

Note to city planners: Please take this into consideration when deciding on future water meter upgrade projects.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand the benefits of real-time monitoring. Ironically enough, I found a website by a guy (with the same type of water meter as mine) who designed his own remote monitoring system and computer program. Guess what he does for a living? He’s a rocket scientist with NASA. I found this more than a bit amusing.

I mention this because I see gold in them thar homes. The inability to effectively monitor our water usage is a challenge to solve – in other words, a potential entrepreneurial opportunity. Pardon the metaphors, but when it comes to water, this is only the tip of the iceberg. Innovation drives change. Necessity is the mother of invention. It is not difficult to imagine Southern Nevada becoming the Silicon Valley of water efficiency. We certainly know how to innovate. Why not work on turning our greatest liability into an asset? Imagine building an entirely new industry, based in zero-waste ultra-efficiency and powered by our abundant renewable energy, that would not only serve our local community but also help solve water-scarcity challenges affecting billions of people around the world.

The potential for desert landscaping is still in its infancy here. Landscaping techniques that harvest and store rainwater can be combined with safe onsite water reuse strategies that can practically eliminate the need for irrigation with potable water. This saves energy too! Fixtures, control systems, moisture sensing, monitoring and information technology – there are thousands of opportunities for reshaping our relationships with water while revitalizing and diversifying economy activity.

”There’s a sense of entitlement – ‘We’re here, we’re big, we’ve got the guns, we’ve got the technology, we’ve got the brains, we therefore are entitled to every damn thing on this planet.’

”That’s not how it works and we’re going to find out the hard way if we don’t wise up and start seeking a life that’s in balance with the natural cycles of life on earth.”

James Cameron

Rape by greed. Dozing NV to steal water.In the movie Avatar, the destruction of nature was business as usual for those who sought profit at any cost, human or otherwise. We face a similar challenge in Nevada. We don’t need to bulldoze our way to temporary water abundance at the expense of others currently living in harmony with their land. Ultimately, that ecocidal plan would prove to be the most expensive option by far. We should take the high road, through responsible actions that will lead to our abiliSave our home!ty to comfortably survive here for millennia.

Big water projects are costly. What if we spent those billions as judiciously-placed seeds, leveraging necessity and innovation toward becoming the world’s greatest source of water efficient products and techniques? It’s the green solution that honors all.


Additional Resources:

George Knapp’s excellent reporting on the proposed pipeline and the Bureau of Land Management’s Draft EIS:


Someone’s homemade video illustrating the message of Avatar – that we must protect our planet:


  1. If only people realized how precious our resources are. Thank you for continually trying to wake us up to the fact. Civilizations have caused their own demise and it seems that’s where we are headed. We seem to have such short vision. You are always looking ahead through binoculars and reporting back to us the dangers we face. I hope people listen.

  2. Steve Erickson says

    Thank you, Steve, for an excellent and insightful commentary. Let’s hope the Southern Nevada Water Authority Board reads it!