Wednesday, September 26, 2007

NBC's Take on Water Wars

Here's what NBC Nightly News did on the Water Grab: NBC News feature on Water Wars. I apologize for having to shout over the Bellagio fountain and the thing with my eyebrow.

Yes, We Can

Some of you folks might have caught another virtuoso performance by Water Czarina Pat Mulroy on NBC Nightly News Tuesday night. She insisted, as she has consistently, that conservation would not solve Las Vegas' water woes.
Well, Pat is also a huge champion for accelerated construction of tract homes and slot machines, and wants to cram millions more people into the Las Vegas Valley. Water is the lubricant that would help slide those millions in, and she's happy to defoliate the Great Basin if that's what it takes to bring the water here.

But in fact, conservation can work. As there is with any change in public policy, there is a political cost, and I suspect that's what the Water Authority and its political leadership wants to avoid.
(Full disclosure: I am a member of the Las Vegas Valley Water District's advisory committee considering rate changes, and I have been very vocal in pushing for the most aggressive pricing structure possible to reward conservation and discourage heavy water use. Not everyone on the committee agrees with me, and a few committee appointees roll their eyes when I talk about the importance of conservation.)
But can it work? Sure. Albuquerque, New Mexico, is among the cities of the Southwest that instituted conservation measures, most significantly dramatic increases in the cost of water for the heaviest consumers - a classic "tiered" water rate structure.
In 1989, Albuquerque used 279 gallons per person, per day. By 2003, the city had trimmed that number to 193 gallons, and the number continues to fall. Residential use, differentiated from the overall numbers, is even better - it is at 135 gallons per day.

Las Vegas' overall per capita number is 265, and the residential number, as of 2001, was 230. In some cities, the top rate caps out at more than $10 per 1,000 gallons. Ours is at $3.50. Clearly we can charge more for those who insist on using huge amounts of water, while rewarding those who are relatively frugal with frozen or even reduced rates.
Water Authority officials insist that you cannot compare the per capita numbers from various cities because environmental conditions are so different. I don't fully accept that, but let's take their argument on face value. The same officials say that what you can do is use the numbers as an indicator of progress.
What we have seen, then, is truly significant progress by cities that have insituted strong conservation measures. We can do that in Las Vegas as well.
The benefits would include eliminating the necessity of the Water Grab, providing a cushion for responsible growth, and bringing our urban existence into some sort of harmony with our environment. The costs would be the loss of those vast swathes of emerald green turf, watered at all hours of the day even in the sweltering heat of mid-summer, that "enhance" our suburban roads.
Can it be done? Sure. What remains to be seen is if we have the will.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Price You Pay...

The City of Henderson watering asphalt in early August, mid-day, 107 degrees out.

Water is about as important as air, especially in Las Vegas, but it is a little more expensive. Not much more, not compared to what people are paying in, say, Detroit or Seattle or Tucson or Albuquerque or any other part of the country where the commodity is treated as the precious substance it is, but it still costs.
A number of analysts have suggested, in fact, that one reason why Las Vegas' water users tend to lead the Southwest, indeed the nation, in gallons-per-day use is that the wet stuff is cheap. Very cheap. That has helped us put turf and swimming pools all over the valley, but the drought and a cap on what we can take from the Colorado River means the glory days (stupid days?) are over.
The primary strategy of the Southern Nevada Water Authority to stave off disaster has been to plan the defoliation of the Great Basin, a plan that has caused a fair degree of consternation among those folks who live in the Great Basin. Also, among anyone who actually gives a damn about the environmental future of this country. Or, selfishly, lives downwind of what would be toxic dust storms emanating from the newly created desert on thousands of miles around East Central Nevada.
The alternative pushed by the silly eco-terrorist community has been to look at the use patterns of Las Vegans and suggest you could save as much water from conservation in this city and suburbs as you could from the Water Grab. Such perspectives are anathema to the Captains of Industry and Government who have run this city so well, if occasionally criminally, in the past, but those Captains have responded with various conservation measures, some more successful than others.
One of the potentially most effective, however, has a long way to go. But perhaps it is starting.
The Las Vegas Valley Water District (aka SNWA) has a committee meeting on the issue of water rates, and specifically issues of equity, financial stability, and most important, conservation. (I am on the committee, much to the unhappiness of some of those afore-mentioned Captains.)There has been very little public attention to this committee.
I think some of the discussion has been eye-opening. At least one member is arguing for a flat rate structure, which would actually undermine the existing, if awfully anemic, "tiered" structure that encourages (again, anemically) conservation. But there is a lot of discussion that is going to affect people's wallets, pocketbooks and back yards.
I, being an environmental fanatic, have suggested that since the West is in the worst drought in recorded history, and since I'm doing all I can to muck up SNWA's Water Grab, it juuuust might be a good idea to try to live within some sort of less wasteful water budget.
Crazy talk, I know.
Things on the Rates Citizens Advisory Committee are going to get interesting ("interesting" within the context of really, really boring power point presentations showing various rate-structure financials and water pipe sizes) over the next few weeks. There are meetings scheduled Oct. 3 and Oct. 17.
The meetings are from 4 to 6 p.m. and they are at 1001 S. Valley View, on the corner of Valley View and Charleston, in the conference room of the Water District offices.
Come on down and make your voice heard.
This is one issue that hits 70 percent of the water users in our community directly and affects 100 percent, even those outside the service district, because whatever comes from Clark County and Las Vegas will be mirrored in the suburbs.
The issue may be dry (heh, heh) but it is important.

Monday, September 10, 2007

One More Warning

The Spring Valley of East-Central Nevada - Ground Zero for the Water Grab
Dr. Jim Deacon of the University of Nevada-Las Vegas is one of the world's foremost experts on desert ecologies. He has made enormous impacts on the field. Now, he has published what I believe will be a landmark study on the impact of the Southern Nevada Water Authority's Water Grab on the fragile environment of the Great Basin. This was published in the scientific journal BioScience, and it was reviewed by Dr. Deacon's peers in the scientific community before publishing.
This adds to the growing volume of scientific exploration of the impacts of this disastrous plan to trade the environment of the Great Basin for more slots and tract housing in Las Vegas. Those who ignore the warnings from our country's great scientists have always paid a harsh price. I hope we do not join them. Previous studies include a report from the United Nations Environmental Programme that warns of widespread desertification from the Water Grab; a study by the Utah Geological Survey that warns of groundwater levels falling by 100 feet or more, far deeper than the root structures of the vegetation in the region; and a study by the U.S. Geological Survey that warns of damage to the crown jewel of the region, the Great Basin National Park.
For more information on Jim's important contribution, go here: