Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Fodder for the Utah-Vegas Water Wars

[Dry News] Yesterday, NPR's Fresh Air featured an interview with California water researcher Peter Gleick about the "Looming Water Crisis" facing much of the Western United States.

Glick, a MacArthur fellow and co-founder of the Pacific Institute, visited Utah recently, meeting with Legislators, Salt Lake County officials and City Weekly, to discuss a new Pacific Institute study of Las Vegas' water use. The findings—that Sin City could be saving a lot more water through conservation—should interest Utah politicians grappling with Nevada’s plan to pipe water from the Utah-Nevada border to Vegas.

To justify the planned pipeline, Las Vegas water authorities have repeatedly touted the city’s water conservation efforts—particularly a program that pays residents to tear grass out of front yards. The message has essentially been that Vegas is already conserving. (They particularly love to point out that water used in casino fountains is recycled.) So, the argument goes, the city has no choice but to pump water from ranching land. (A move Utah ranchers fear could destroy their crops.) Vegas water authorities have even chastised Utah for doing less on the water conservation front.

The Pacific Institute study calls out the Vegas rhetoric. Institute researcher Heather Cooley gives Vegas credit for the “innovative and effective” turf-removal program, but notes Vegas lags behind other desert regions in use of many other water conservation programs. Cities like Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Tucson are more aggressive and use significantly less water.

The Pacific Institute study identified 80,000 acre feet of water that Vegas could save through conservation. Gleick said if Vegas adopted the water conserving measures outlined in the institute report, the city could postpone building the proposed pipeline for years.

The report is good fodder in Utah’s water fight with Vegas. But Utahns shouldn’t act too superior. Pacific Institute’s researchers note Salt Lake City and St. George residents use less water per person than Vegas residents, but are still significant water wasters compared to standout conservers in New Mexico, Arizona or parts of Colorado. (Ted McDonough)

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