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The Prescott Daily Courier | Prescott, Arizona

home : opinions : columns April 17, 2015

6/2/2013 6:00:00 AM
Talk of the Town: Water running out - and so is time
Special to the Courier

In her book, "Blue Revolution - Unmaking America's Water Crisis" (Beacon Press, 2011), award-winning journalist and environmental author Cynthia Barnett describes in detail the unsustainable way we are using our most precious natural resource, and then declares that a new national water ethic is called for if we are to avoid a future catastrophe.

"America needs nothing less than a revolution in how we use water. We must change not only the wasteful ways we consume water in our homes, businesses, farms and energy plants, but also the inefficient ways we move water to and away from them. This revolution will bring about the ethical use of water in every sector. Such an ethic is as essential - and as possible - as past awakenings to threats against our environment and ourselves on the large scale, the way we halted the use of DDT and other deadly chemicals; in our communities, the way we stopped tossing litter out car windows and trashing public parks; and, at the family level, the way we got used to setting out recycling bins alongside the garbage."

In addition to our unconsciously wasteful use of water, "Blue Revolution" points to a number of factors that are nudging the country toward critical water shortages (all relevant to our region): exponential increases in population (sharply increased demand); climate change (decreased supply along with increased demand); and the fact that these changes are coming at us very quickly.

Unfortunately, our natural-resource planning and decision-making apparatus is not equipped to deal with rapid change, particularly in the arid Southwest. The Scripps Institution of Oceanography recently published a paper titled, "When Will Lake Mead Go Dry?" The authors, a marine physicist and a climate scientist, quantified the water-storage risks to the largest reservoir in the United States and said they were "stunned" not only by the magnitude of this problem, but also by how rapidly it was approaching.

Barnett and others have pointed out that the primary reason Americans believe that we will always have plenty of fresh water is the persistence of "The Illusion of Water Abundance." We learn in elementary school that two-thirds of the surface of our planet is covered with water. So how could we ever run out of the stuff?

We could run out of time! "The Illusion of Water Abundance" is only one part of this complex problem. The other part could be called "The Illusion That We Have Plenty of Time to Resolve This Issue." There is credible evidence that Lake Mead is headed toward a significant near-term reduction of the amount of water in storage, yet many people cling to the hope that we have more than enough time to solve not only that vexing water problem, but many others, too.

"Blue Revolution" demonstrates how a "water ethic" can be an effective solution by using site-specific examples (San Antonio, Texas; Monterey, California; Singapore) to show that if a water ethic is embraced at all levels of a community - including government officials willing to make the necessary changes to inadequate state policies and water laws - it can remedy even serious threats to water resources. That's the good news. The bad news is that the communities the author uses as examples did not adequately anticipate the serious problem that was headed their way nor do any useful advance planning. They waited until the last possible moment to act, always the most expensive and least enduring response.

Barnett makes the point that every region is unique and therefore must create a customized water ethic that reflects local conditions. But she does mention two universal concepts. First, avoid overusing aquifers and surface waters and, at the same time, try not to repeat "fixes" used in the past that result in unintended consequences for future generations (more and deeper wells, pipelines transporting high-cost water from remote sources). Second, leave as much environmental water (aquifers, wetlands, and rivers) in place as possible.

And finally, Barnett reminds us that citizens will not embrace a water ethic unless everyone in the community of stakeholders is on board, all of us in the boat, rowing as a team. A water ethic cannot be defined solely by science or law or economics. To be effective, the definition must include our beliefs, our motivations and, above all, our collective values.

The Citizens Water Advocacy Group, the Verde River Basin Partnership and other water-focused organizations have begun to do this work but we need more voices at the table. We need you.

Chris Hoy is president of the Citizens Water Advocacy Group. Submit comments to info@cwagaz.org.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Wednesday, June 05, 2013
Article comment by: Toodle Oooo

@want a drink of water...English 101, a spelling class and a dictionary could assist your thought process and writing skills.

Arizona has always been short on water, it's a desert, duh, and most people knew that and did conserve water. Always a few idiots in the mix.

The idea of drinking sand doesn't appeal to most "born and bread" (your words, not mine) Arizona folks.

Making Arizona a destination instead of "come see us, spend your money, now leave" brought on the influx of huge residential developments which have been depleting our water supply for years.

Better check your facts about all the big ranches being owned by "born and bread" Arizona folks. (bred)

Posted: Tuesday, June 04, 2013
Article comment by: @ Want a Drink of Water?

Shame on you!! I moved here less then 10 years ago and call Arizona my home. I too have seen awful water waste.

My neighbor Arizona born, has a beautiful above ground pool. After they filled it with water, she decided it was put in the wrong place.

She emptied the thing, had it moved and then refilled it. Again they are Arizona born and raised.

How about the big land owners, they too are born and raised Arizona, that want to tap the Big Chino, for no other reason but to build more homes, for us outsiders to rush into you state. And make themselves RICHER.

Being is rich is not good enough they want more at the expense of the whole state.

Before you start sling mud, look at your own, born and bread residents. That is where the fault lies.

Posted: Monday, June 03, 2013
Article comment by: Gail Luedtke

I moved here in 1998 (purchased property in 1997) and was assured there was no water problem. HELLO. Then I went some years back to a City sponsered seminar on how to convserve water - to include using gray water for landscaping and water catchment for personal use. WELL - the officials at the meeting (City, County) said that Prescott codes did not allow for gray water use. So what did I take away from this - a cup of coffee and a cookie!

Posted: Monday, June 03, 2013
Article comment by: Thirst Games

Take 24 developers, politicians who are in the pocket of the rich and other newby flub=nkies deep into the Sonoran desert in the summer. Drop them off and let them fight over the gallon of botted water left at the drop off. It should be entertaining, educational and rid us of 23 thirsty mindless destruction workers.

Posted: Monday, June 03, 2013
Article comment by: some oldguy

lets kill 2 birds with one stone - close the goof courses (if you watch some the players its certainly not Golf) and pump the water back into the aquifer. that will cut the water use and end that nightmarish drain on city resources they call golf courses!

Posted: Monday, June 03, 2013
Article comment by: Tony Viada

If you really want to make your blood boil, try looking at Google maps and using the satellite view see how many pools are in the Prescott and P.V. area.
Then look at Phoenix. You will find that some neighborhoods in Phoenix have more pools on a single street than all of the Tri-City area combined.
This shows the big picture, There are too many people that simply don't care. and they will continue to not care until it affects them on a personal level.
Of course when their water bill exceeds their rent they will blame those who came here after them.
It makes no difference if your family has lived in AZ for six generations or one, we are all responsible for what is to come.

Posted: Monday, June 03, 2013
Article comment by: Mr Maverick

@ Mike B. Try counting the swimming pools. Phoenix and it's 'burbs are the worst offenders because Maricopa County has the lowest water rates in the State.

Posted: Monday, June 03, 2013
Article comment by: The End Is Near

Too late, our world is doomed.

Posted: Monday, June 03, 2013
Article comment by: Tom Atkins

Yes, the Prescott AMA is not sustainable, has not been for forty or fifty years! Prescott's production wells, located under the town of Chino Valley are dropping one and a half feet per year! Prescott Valley's are dropping even faster!

We were probably sustainable before the "building boom" that we experienced between the sixties and the "building bust" of ~2008. The result, we gained too many people guzzling way too much water. Both of these are major factors in the water equation amount guzzled, and number of guzzlers!

This unfettered growth was, in large part, due to very poor governmental planning at the city, and county level! Land owners and developer's profit trumped, asking the question: how many humans can live in our area, given a limited, finite, water natural resource!

We can currently do something about the amount of water guzzled! Place a draconian sliding scale on the cost of water! If a citizen is using a sustainable, replaceable amount each month then the cost of the water is low. If the citizen likes long, long, long showers, then the water bill will be, well… draconian!

Chris Hoy has stated: "If CWAG even mentions population growth limitation, we will loose our credibility, no one will want to hear what we have to say!". He was right, I made a presentation to the Prescott City Council on Gallons of water used through time compared to water sustainability. Toward the end of the presentation I mentioned a possible cap on population until we can prove sustainability! At that very moment Mayor Marlin interrupted my presentation, and stated "no one is going to discuss population caps in council chambers while I am Mayor!" Marlin's behavior represents the mind set of our "leaders/planners" sadly, that type of mind set is exactly the reason for our current water situation!

If we do nothing about it, our children will eventually hear the giant sucking sound of un-sustainable water natural resource.

Posted: Monday, June 03, 2013
Article comment by: Sally Ryan.

As long as the politicians are in bed with the developers, we will see more new houses and demands on our diminishing water supply.

Posted: Monday, June 03, 2013
Article comment by: MIKE B.


Posted: Monday, June 03, 2013
Article comment by: simple simon

@RS s
Right--then you natives can go back to living in wickiups and fighting other Apaches. You are an apache,the original native, I guess.

Posted: Monday, June 03, 2013
Article comment by: Want a Drink of Water?

All day I face the baren way without the taste of water..cool, clear water.

After conserving water in Arizona for the past 70 years, it is sickening to see people flocking into the state with no regard for conserving water.

Recently a newbie to Prescott was complaining about their $700 water bill! Be still my heart!

The City should publish a list of anyone that uses more than the minimum charge for water and charge a huge financial penalty for recklessly wasting our precious water supply..

How about Planning and Zoning recently approving zoning change for a developer increasing the density, smaller lots, more people. Criminal!

Before any increase in density is permitted, along with it should go the proof of water supply.

Where does P&Z and the Council think the water is coming from to accommodate more people?

There should be criminal charges involved for the people who waste our water.

Posted: Monday, June 03, 2013
Article comment by: We need a water park.

What we need is a water park like the one in the Phoenix area. I read that just the evaporation is equal to what 1200 families use a year. The average uncovered pool down there loses about 5 feet of water every year. I'm sure that the SRP is really concerned about that.

Posted: Sunday, June 02, 2013
Article comment by: Rs s

Simple solution. All non natives go back to the chaos you created in your area of origin. You who invade my native state bring nothing but more traffic, more crime higher prices, and take our space and water. Enough. Leave!

Posted: Sunday, June 02, 2013
Article comment by: Coyote Contraire™

Rabbits Don't Think

Why has there been such a growth market for developers to exploit? Could it be because we've been reproducing like thoughtless bunnies for generations?

When discovering herself pregnant has any mommy-to-be ever asked, "How much water will this child and its progeny consume? How much other resource?" Fertility's ego seems to preclude such thinking.

Overheard conversation between two women talking about a third: "She's so selfish! She's only going to have two children!"


Posted: Sunday, June 02, 2013
Article comment by: Mr Maverick

This is a topic I have followed for years. The fresh water crisis has been here for years. The news stations and newspapers are usually too busy with articles we could care less about or continually recycle the news. In the mean time the fresh water shortages are all over the globe, worse on both shores of the USA and even in the midwest. It's time to look at serious water conservation, probably tanks for saving and using runoff water will become populr or mandatory. This is a world wide problem.

Posted: Sunday, June 02, 2013
Article comment by: Gary Ian Worob

Chris, you and Leslie and the CWAG members have been working very hard for quite a while to bring light into the subject of water and sustainability. I applaud your efforts but the problem is that the people in authority are not listening and are not competent to lead. They continue to turn a deaf ear and all the studies that have been presented sit on the shelves at City Hall. What the solution screams for is new representation by intelligent like minded people who will not bow to the whims of development without sustainable design. We really need to vote these people out. When I sat in the General Plan meeting and heard Len Scamardo say the lakes were not important I fully realized that it is time for he and others to go and be replaced by competent representation. Our vote this time really is important and the public needs to get that. Before the elections I hope CWAG and the Good Governance committee can bring to the public the need for change.
Thanks for your hard work. We really need to think in terms of real solutions and voting is one of them.

Posted: Sunday, June 02, 2013
Article comment by: Alan Whitney

Everybody KNOWS that the American South West is semi-arid, with a finite amount of water. Everybody KNOWS that the predicted availability of Colorado River water was based on evaluations conducted during an atypically wet period.

So... WHY do so many folks promote more growth? Why are we building more homes in Prescott?

The answer is easy: Profit.

And I'm all for profit. But when it's quest is based on an unsustainable model, the quest is nothing but applied insanity.

Posted: Sunday, June 02, 2013
Article comment by: R S

And the P&Z want to bring 200,000 more thirsty newbies to the Tri-city Area by 2050.
The P&Z is owned by the contractors. The Granite Dells proposal will be placed on hold by court suit that contends there is no guarantee of water supply.
Start conserving people.

Posted: Sunday, June 02, 2013
Article comment by: Tom Steele

Water sustains life and Lake Mead is a barometer of the over subscribed withdrawals from the Colorado. And we have local developers poised to build more subdivisions which require additional demands on our water supplies forever. No question we can use less with conservation and less water intensive vegetation. We can also harvest rainfall for a limited savings. However, we must shift away from the need for growing the population to growing industry to replace the jobs provided by home construction and related craftsmen and suppliers. We cannot afford additional demand on our perpetual semi arid lands.

Posted: Sunday, June 02, 2013
Article comment by: Gary Dean

I have stated many times that we WILL, in this area, face water rationing and shortages in my lifetime (I am now 66). Whenever I say that, I am met mostly by disbelief ( you really think so?) We shall see.

Posted: Sunday, June 02, 2013
Article comment by: Perry Wien

A sad comment on human nature. Unfortunately, our weak government, hamstrung by anti-tax/anti-government activists, will be unable to do anything about this until it's too late. A marked increase in what everybody pays for water and government incentives for new water saving technologies would address the problem, but there's no chance of either.

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