Water Conservation Essential in Southwestern Cities

Water Conservation Essential in Southwestern Cities

The drought situation in the Western US continues to be precarious. Water levels at the Lake Powell reservoir are so low that there’s almost not enough water for the connected dam to produce electricity. The Interior Department announced earlier this month it will delay releasing 480,000 acre-feet of water from the reservoir to keep water levels higher. It’s not a permanent solution but it’s expected to keep the water high enough to ensure electricity generation for another year.

“We have never taken this step before in the Colorado Basin,” Tanya Trujillo, assistant secretary of the Interior Department, said at a press conference. “But the conditions we see today, and what we see on the horizon, demand that we take prompt action.”

Reuters: Water levels in Lake Mead reach historic low, May 12, 2022.

CBS: Megadrought in the West threatens energy and water security, May 5, 2022.

PBS: Western states face a bleak future amid the worst drought in more than 1,000 years, February 15, 2022.

Why This Matters

The Colorado River provides water for about 40 million people and around 5 million acres of farmland. Climate change has fueled the extreme drought conditions that have led to record-low flows in the river, threatening both people’s water supply and agriculture. The state of the Colorado River is, in part, what’s fueling extreme wildfire seasons out west.

CGTN America: A relentless drought on the Colorado River, March 21, 2022.

NBC: Climate Change And Drought Forcing Hard Choices Across California, May 9, 2022.

VICE: 40 Million People Rely on the Colorado River, and Now It's Drying Up, August 14, 2021.

Surviving & Thriving In Drought Conditions

Cities in the climate-changed Southwest are prepared to keep water flowing even during a drought that could be permanent. Places like San Diego, Las Vegas, and Phoenix have taken a wide variety of measures to ensure people still have water, even when the supply is low, including the replacement of grass lawns with drought-tolerant, native plants; installing low-flow plumbing fixtures; and diversifying their water supply. The measures seem to be working as San Diego slashed its water consumption by 30% from 2007 to 2020, from 81.5 billion gallons to 57 billion gallons.

“We know it’s a desert and we plan accordingly,” Kathryn Sorenson, the former water services director for Phoenix and current research director at the Morrison Institute for Public Policy, told Yale Environment 360. Adding in reference to Lake Mead’s low levels that, “Phoenix can survive dead pool for generations. We have groundwater, we have done a good job of conservation and diversifying our portfolios. Desert cities are the oldest cities, and we will withstand the test of time.”

Pacific Institute: Briefing: The Untapped Potential of California's Urban Water Supply, March 30, 2022.

ABC 10: Pure Water Oceanside | San Diego County's first water reuse project to open, March 22, 2022.

KUSI: As California declares water crisis, San Diego County declares water surplus until 2045, August 4, 2021.