Whenever I read about yet another new development being constructed in the Las Vegas valley, I have to suppress the urge to yell and scream and pull my hair, “and where are you going to get water from in five years? Ten years? Twenty years?!”
The Vegas valley gets its potable water from Lake Mead, a man-made creation resulting from the damming of the Colorado river. Lake Mead is presently nearly 200 feet below capacity. It hasn’t been this low since the completion of the Hoover Dam in 1936. Currently, another intake “straw” is being constructed at Lake Mead to reach water at lower depths. This will help transport more water to the region after lake levels have fallen dangerously low but it’s only a bandaid. Without significant, measurable and prolonged rainfall, the drought will worsen and the water in Lake Mead will continue to be consumed by the citizens and tourists of Vegas as it slowly evaporates in the blazing Mojave sun.
Climate change deniers clamber on to their pedestals and shout that no one knows what the future will be. That we should continue development unabated because everything may change tomorrow. Here’s the problem with that stance…
1. The Facts – The irrefutable scientific data amassed that climate change is happening full force and is contributing to drought conditions in the west.
2. The History – The sophisticated, industrial civilization that was the Anasazi culture of the Southwest was thriving when it suddenly collapsed approximately 1000 years ago. It is generally believed that the Anasazi people were forced to disperse to wetter climes as a result of the Great Drought which brought about repeated crop failures and left their irrigation canals dry.
The western drought has been on-going for nearly a decade. Our society has had time to steel itself and prepare to avert catastrophe. And yet the Vegas region is presently seeing brand new development. Proof that the dollar will win out over facts, history and logic every time.
In his pointed and critical article featured in Slate last summer, meteorologist Eric Holthaus doesn’t hold back in accusing Vegas of sticking its head in the parched sand. From the article:
“Tim Barnett, a scientist at UC-San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography, has calculated a 50/50 chance that Lake Mead will reach an unusable state—so-called “dead pool” levels—by 2036, barring aggressive cutbacks in water use.”
2036! That’s 21 years from now that the water in Lake Mead could be in an unusable state! And yet hundreds of new homes and businesses are being constructed in the Vegas valley! Facepalm!
If any one person has helped to shape this callous, indifferent attitude towards our water crisis, it’s the former general manager of the Las Vegas Valley Water District, Pat Mulroy. In a recent interview given to the Las Vegas Sun newspaper, Mulroy smugly, dismissively “answers” questions put forth to her about the challenges ahead for Vegas. I quote Mulroy; “On paper, we will take a shortage, but in real terms, we won’t be affected by it.”
If by “won’t be affected by it” she means that residents will eventually be forced to uproot and flee to moister environs once their water bill skyrockets to dizzying heights due to the shortage, then yes, we won’t be affected by it.
The Sun goes on to ask, “Is there a point where the resources we have can’t sustain the West’s growth?”
Mulroy: “This isn’t a western growth issue. It’s a global growth issue. It’s raw human numbers. So what do you do? Put a moat around Las Vegas and not let anybody cross it? Come on, let’s get real. Do we get to decide who gets to have children and who doesn’t? These become ridiculous questions”
Mulroy’s evasiveness and defensiveness in no way either answers this important question nor helps citizens of the region plan for their future.
Oh and there’s one other aspect of the drought that the Vegas media seems to be avoiding – the almost certain increased frequency of dust storms as the land becomes more arid. Scenes like this one in Arizona will happen with more regularity across the Southwest as the land gets drier and vegetation shrivels up, bringing about more respiratory and lung ailments and an overall lessening in the quality of life.
“But Angel, who are you to lecture on this topic? Aren’t you just a song/poetry/art/photo slinger?” That and I’m also a woman who was on the Dean’s List at George Mason University as an anthropology major with a concentration on Southwestern culture. And a person who has held a keen interest in climate/meteorology for decades and has followed the rise of climate change closely, that’s all.
I write this as I sit at my dining room table, in my Henderson, Nevada home on the outskirts of Vegas, occasionally sipping from a glass full of precious Lake Mead. This slow moving catastrophe is bearing down on all of us residents of the Southwest. The unstoppable engine is churning and our cities and inhabitants stand to go the way of the Anasazi. Now is the time to take action, to make our plans while our heads are still well above the drying sand.
Further reading – Here’s a study from the Journal of Climate that puts the chances of a multi-decade megadrought in the west at over 50%