In Southern Nevada’s Endless Water Crisis, We’re Way Beyond Lawn Time

The front lawn came with the house we moved into a few years ago.

The Bermudagrass plot was smaller than an average putting green and easy to mow. The splash of deep green was cute as far as it goes, but it was out of place on a street that had largely transitioned to colorful rock and smart landscaping.

Beyond the postcard aesthetic, it made no sense to keep watering a lawn in the desert. Aside from the politics of climate change and our barren land with its endless water crisis – a basic definition of “desert” – there were no kids at home to play on it. And I could live with the disappointment of dogs. In short, there was nothing to discuss.

Earlier this summer, we had the grass removed and replaced with a mesquite and several durable flowering shrubs in the desert. It’s all about a drip system and a timer, and I think it looks great. I have already given the lawn mower.

Now I realize that I woke up to a Southern Nevada Water Authority conservation ad. I half-expect Ryan Reeves, the hockey hitman and SNWA water conservation “specialist”, to slam the garage door for me.

In keeping with this theme, the voice of SNWA CEO John Entsminger looped through my head last week after the US Bureau of Reclamation declared its first-ever water scarcity declaration. emergency, which will reduce the amount of water southern Nevada can draw from its essential Colorado River source, Lake Mead. The cuts were triggered after years of drought, the thinning of the snowpack and increased aridification in the west caused the lake level to drop below 1,075 feet.

Nevada, California and Arizona are the immediately affected states, along with Mexico. But there will be more. I have not heard any credible source predicting that these conditions will improve.

Now our deficit is in deficit, the Lake Mead tub ring is synonymous with a West in crisis, and anything Entsminger says in an SNWA news video sounds like an understatement. Even, “It means we need to seriously step up water conservation.”

He was talking about the seven billion gallons needed to make up for the mandatory 2022 reduction. Replacing non-essential sod with smart landscaping, following approved watering schedules, and fixing watering leaks when they occur would achieve success. that disheartening multibillion-gallon goal, he said calmly. After reminding skeptics that single-family homes and their landscaped irrigation use a lot more water than the Strip’s fountains and the area’s golf course, he adds, “If you’ve got grass that has no value. recreational, get rid of it. And, finally, even more bluntly, “We live in a desert. It’s time to act like this.

That’s right. That doesn’t mean all the trees in Summerlin have to disappear or that Green Valley is turning khaki. At least not yet. But something must give.

This reduction of seven billion gallons may sound like a lot, but consider the fact that the water level in Lake Mead is three trillion gallons below its capacity and has now sounded an alarm for the first time ever. story. For the Colorado River system as a whole, water storage is at 40 percent of its capacity – down from 49 percent in a single year in what the Assistant Secretary of Water and Conservation Reclamation science, Tanya Trujillo, said to be the result of “Unprecedented and accelerating challenges”.

Whether it’s due to prolonged drought, climate change, an unusually dry spring, or a shrinking snowpack, the Colorado River’s last annual flow, reminds me Kyle Roerink, executive director of the Great Basin Water Network. , represents less than a third of the 16.5 million acres. feet necessary to fulfill its obligations.

It’s one of the main reasons his group and a growing number of environmental organizations are challenging the sprawling Southern Nevada Economic Development and Conservation Act, a federal land bill its supporters call a “plan” for a Balanced Approach to Growth in Clark County. One problem, Roerink says, is that no matter how far southern Nevada conserves its most precious natural resources, political and environmental factors beyond its control threaten to turn that plan into a cartoon.

“If everyone was doing as well (conserving water) as Nevada, I think we could all feel a little better,” Roerink says. “But Nevada doesn’t exist in a vacuum when it comes to the river.”

Depleted reservoirs are not only synonymous with real problems in the present, but they can also wreak havoc on development plans even in the near future.

“Our reservoirs are like savings accounts, and what happens when you don’t save money and keep withdrawing, withdrawing, and withdrawing, you’ll eventually get to the point where you’re overdrawn.”

Roerink praises SNWA’s conservation marketing, but calls it part of a “silver buckshot approach” when there is no quick fix. “Unfortunately, not all of these silver pellets are under our control,” he says. “It is a river used by seven states, sovereign tribes and the country of Mexico. This is geopolitics at its best.

It’s 2021. It shouldn’t have taken a federal declaration of emergency for us to get the point across, but I guess Ryan Reeves can’t be everywhere. We live in a desert, said a sage. It’s time to act like this.

It is probably unrealistic, but I will end on an optimistic note.

The front yard lantana has started to bloom. Once the mesquite tree fills up, there will be a bit more shade in a sunny land.

John L. Smith is a longtime author and columnist. He was born in Henderson, and his family’s roots in Nevada date back to 1881. His stories have appeared in Time, Readers Digest, The Daily Beast, Reuters, Ruralite, and Desert Companion, among others. It also offers weekly commentary on the Nevada public radio station KNPR. His latest book, a biography of iconic Nevada political and civil rights leader Joe Neal, “Westside Slugger: Joe Neal’s Lifelong Fight for Social Justice” is published by University of Nevada Press and is available on He is also the author of a new book, “Saints, Sinners, and Sovereign Citizens: The Endless War Over the West’s Public Lands”. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith.

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