Something in the Desert – May 16, 2019

Time to act on water conservation

Mark Twain is credited with saying everybody talks about the weather, but nobody ever does anything about it. Here in Grand County, everybody talks about the drought, but nobody does anything about it.

And while the weather is out of our control, steps can be taken to conserve water during prolonged periods of drought.

Before we go any further, let it be written I am not the type of person who moves to a new town and starts telling people how much better we did things where I used to live.

I’ll also tell you your elected officials and volunteer commissions and committees and experts and neighbors understand that ensuring water quality and quantity is essential to southeastern Utah. Heck, it’s essential to human life.

I heard about the climate change water shortage fears when I first came to Moab – like within the first 48 hours, before I ventured too far from Main and Center.

When I did drive around town to get the lay of the land, all the grassy lawns shocked me. Nowhere else in the American Southwest, the nation’s Outback, have I seen so many green front yards in a decade or more.

Just about every other community in this arid region has limited the planting of lawns, established strict limitations on watering, and requires sprinkler systems that water the grass and not the sidewalk. Fines are levied when the rules are broken.

The Moab City Water Conservation and Drought Management Board is populated with intelligent men and women who have learned about water issues. They are advisory, however, and have no teeth to set policy or issue conservation mandates.

Their efforts appear to be focused on public education programs, which are where you start, but the hard work lies ahead. This is the part where you all bristle because this is where I tell you what they’ve done somewhere else.

The Las Vegas Water Authority is no paper tiger.

Granted, southeastern Utah gets a lot more precipitation than drier-than-a-mouthful-of-cotton Las Vegas does and it has millions fewer people – even if you count all those tourists.

While we get our water from the La Sal Mountains, the Las Vegas Valley gets roughly 90 percent of its water from the Colorado River, which, as we all know, has been decimated by this prolonged drought.

According to the Water Authority, Lake Mead – which the Colorado feeds – has dropped by 130 feet in the past 19 years, or three trillion gallons.

The Water Authority adopted serious conservation efforts beginning 16 years ago, and while the lake continues to evaporate into a giant manmade mud hole, water usage has declined by nearly 40 percent since 2002, despite the fact Clark County’s population has grown by hundreds of thousands of people since then.

It took courage for elected officials and the Water Authority to weather the political storm that came about in the wake of the conservation mandates, but people soon adapted.

While southeastern Utah is not as dry as southern Nevada, we are not immune to the ravages of drought, and to think otherwise would be reckless and even arrogant.

Limit the amount of turf that can be planted in new subdivisions. Offer financial incentives to people in established neighborhoods who are willing to remove some or all of the turf covering their yards so they can replace it with xeriscape. Require homebuilders to install tankless water heaters and other water-saving plumbing. Ban manmade ponds. Prohibit any kind of watering between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. during the hot months. Force people to shower just once a week.

Just kidding on that last one. The point is, do something because the alternative is far worse than grassless lawns.