Thursday, May 22, 2008

On dry land in Las Vegas talks to Nevada’s water manager about drought and climate change:…This drought’s a wake-up call. There are a lot of things that have to change in the West, primarily our consumption. Conservation is central to everything we do. Given the national population increases predicted for the next twenty to thirty years, we know that some of that growth is going to occur in the West. So the amount each of us uses individually, and what we use on a per-capita basis, has to be driven way down. We have to become far more sustainable in our water-use and land-use patterns. And that transformation is beginning to happen in Las Vegas. When I see a high-rise go up, I’m delighted. A high-rise building has a very small water footprint.

…[T]he places in the West experiencing huge population growth are likely to face the most chronic water shortages. How do we address that?

You’re going to have water problems resulting from climate change whether you’re in a water-scarce area or one that’s going to get more water. It doesn’t matter. The consequences of climate change—whether drought, flooding, or water contamination caused by rising ocean levels—will force us to adapt to a different way of managing water resources. There’s no silver bullet. Are we accommodating people that come to southern Nevada? Yes. But they have to be accommodated somewhere.

Should the cost of water in Las Vegas reflect the preciousness of the resource?

Oh, absolutely. But it’s how you step into it. You can’t go from where you are now all the way there overnight. It becomes ineffective. You have to stair-step into it. You also have to provide enough of a financial incentive to get people to make the conversions. You’re not out to punish people; you want to remind them of the value of water, and there’s a point at which water pricing is not flexible. That first 5,000 gallons—maybe even 8,000—is inelastic. People are going to use it regardless. They’re going to take a shower. So it is a very delicate balance that you have to strike.

When you read about water, all roads eventually lead back to climate change. Are you optimistic about the future, or do you feel like we’re in some sort of race with calamity?

I think we’re at a crossroads. We have an opportunity to start turning things around. Everyone worries about some kind of economic Armageddon that’s going to happen as a consequence of climate change. We need to define very carefully how our journey into sustainability is going to go. There is a lot of low-hanging fruit we haven’t taken advantage of. But we’ve got to come to grips with the fact that it’s happening, be willing to look it square in the face, start talking about what changes we need to make, and quit pretending it doesn’t exist.

This shot of the Luxor Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas by Tobias Alt, Wikimedia Commons, under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation license, Version 1.2

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