Posts Tagged ‘arid’

A Cinderella Story: Las Vegas isn’t a Water Hog

October 20, 2015
Nevada: Boulder City, river bed, Lake Mead National Recreation Area

Nevada: Boulder City, river bed, Lake Mead National Recreation Area

Mention of water usage in Las Vegas prompts most people to roll their eyes in exasperation. I saw this last week during a lecture on mega-droughts presented to an audience of environmentalists. Few realized that, rather than being the “ugly sister” of wise water consumption, Las Vegas – even with all casinos, glitz and fountains galore – is Cinderella’s fairy godmother waving a wand of solutions for arid communities.

This still-growing Nevada city is coping better than California with drought conditions, despite differences in the sources of their water supplies. Las Vegas draws from Lake Mead, the Colorado River reservoir dammed by Hoover Dam and known for the recreation it affords. California’s water users depend on aqueduct delivery of surface water (including the Colorado River) and groundwater reserves.   But, nevertheless, their droughts elicit the same fears of the economic consequences of not having enough water.

USA: Southern California, CA Drought Spotlight 3-Rte 66 Expedition, Parker Dam (hydrodam across Colorado River that also siphons water for Colorado Aquaduct to Los Angeles for Metropolitan Water District), signage

USA: Southern California, Parker Dam (hydrodam across Colorado River that siphons water for Colorado Aqueduct to Los Angeles via the Metropolitan Water District)

Californians – and all those never thought of Las Vegas as being an environmental trendsetter – would do well to take heed of what’s happening in Las Vegas. The Economist Magazine (August 8, 2015, p 23-24) neatly summarized the ways southern Nevada has preemptively and quite successfully addressed water availability issues.

Las Vegas has banned front lawns. Now xeri-scaping with cactus, yucca plants and interesting desert rocks has become fashionable.

USA California, Santa Barbara, Firescape Garden by firestation on Stanwood

Examples of xeri-scaping.

 

Las Vegas golf courses are now watered sparingly by “brown water.”  New dramatic views of desert scenery offer intriguing contrasts beyond the greens.

Example of a golf course with only greens irrigated.

A golf course after 4 years of drought with only its greens irrigated.

Facing the reality of desert resources, Las Vegas now treats and recycles water used in homes, pools and fountains back to Lake Mead. Furthermore, if homeowners use more than their allotted amounts of water (per a tiered scale), they are charged at higher rates. Yet California’s arcane regulations discourage and in some places dis-allows scaled water-pricing incentives so as to reduce water consumption.

Perhaps Las Vegas is ahead of California because the Colorado River Basin is entering its 16th year of drought and California is only in its 5th year of record-breaking drought. Things aren’t always what we think. Solutions can come from surprising sources.

El Nino, despite its attendant floods and mudslides, may replenish California’s surface water resources; but geology teaches us it will be many years or decades before its groundwater resources will be restored. Additionally, history teaches us that El Nino is often followed by that drought-maker, La Nina. So – as fairy tales teach us – the frog may become a prince and the casino’s scullery maid may become  stewardship’s “Belle of the Ball.” California, look towards Las Vegas!

USA: Southern California, road sign on local 15 on north side of Mohave River

USA: Southern California, road sign on local 15 on north side of Mohave River

For another comparison of  states’ differing management of groundwater and Colorado River water, read this blog post by Meg Wilcox (of Ceres) for National Geographic (Sept 25, 2015) on Arizona’s tight water management of large-scale vegetable farms versus that of California. Wilcox quotes one Arizona farmer as saying: “We track water like we do financial statements.”

Blog Post by Alison M. Jones, Director of No Water No Life.

The Value of Water in a dry land – Photos from the Omo River Basin

October 24, 2014
Africa:  Kenya; Pokot Land, Orwa, CABESI Kitchen without Borders project, vegetable garden plot, seedlings

Africa: Kenya; Pokot Land, Orwa, CABESI Kitchen without Borders project, vegetable garden plot, seedlings

 

Ethiopia: Kundama Farm, a Duss tribal farming community, a 2-day-old Karo baby with its mother

Ethiopia: Kundama Farm, a Duss tribal farming community, a 2-day-old Karo baby with its mother

 

Ethiopia:  Omo Delta at low water stage, herders lead cattle to water

Ethiopia: Omo Delta at low water stage, herders lead cattle to water

 

Africa:  Kenya; Turkana Land, man pushing cart of gerry cans to be filled with water from the river outside of town

Africa: Kenya; Turkana Land, man pushing cart of gerry cans to be filled with water from the river outside of town

 

Africa:  Kenya; Karakol, dried tilapia headed to markets in Kisimu, Nairobi and elsewhere

Africa: Kenya; Karakol, dried tilapia headed to markets in Kisimu, Nairobi and elsewhere

 

Ethiopia:  Omo Delta, Dassenech village of Ilokelete, in low water season, woman carrying fodder for goats

Ethiopia: Omo Delta, Dassenech village of Ilokelete, in low water season, woman carrying fodder for goats

 

– Posted by Jasmine Graf, NWNL Associate Director

I dream of rain, I dream of gardens in the desert sand – Desert Rose

July 25, 2014
Ethiopia, Omo River Valley, view of Omo River with desert rose

Ethiopia, Omo River Valley, view of Omo River with desert rose

“Water is the true wealth in a dry land.”

–U.S. author Wallance Stegner, Beyond the Hundredth Meridian

The Desert Rose is not a real rose, or a member of the rosaceae family, but a spectacular succulent! It is sometimes called the Elephant’s Foot because its trunks swell to store water from summer rains to last thru the long dry winters.

– Posted by Jasmine Graf, NWNL Associate Director

Finding Wetlands in a Drought

April 11, 2014
Lesser yellowlegs, San Luis NWR

Lesser yellowlegs, San Luis NWR

By Alison M. Jones, Director of No Water No Life ®
and Professional Photographer
As published by American Rivers in “The River Blog”-April 11, 2014

The phone rang.  That snowy Saturday I was editing photos of Ethiopia’s Omo River.  “Alison, you must cover California’s drought for No Water No Life®.  It’s beyond regional. US and Asian markets depend on that produce.” I envisioned photographs of a three-year drought:  monotones of white salt on sand.

San Joaquin River, Modesto

San Joaquin River, Modesto

Within 24 hours however, I connected California’s plight with our project’s case-study watersheds. Management solutions for California could help other watersheds. So, escaping an
unusually wet East Coast winter, I packed cameras and
sunglasses to document an arid valley 3,000 miles away. I didn’t expect to enjoy it.

On the plane, I read The Mountains of California written by John Muir 120 years ago.  “Every glacier in the world is smaller than it once was.  All the world is growing warmer….”1

What would he say today?  Surface area of Sierra Nevada glaciers
is 55% less,2 and development still increases along rivers below. Rivers? Oh, actually, the Central Valley now has fewer rivers and more canals.

Then unexpectedly, with expedition advice from American Rivers, my story grew beyond the desolation of drought to include hope.  Droughts come and go in California.  They may get worse.
But there are mitigating solutions. Restoration of streams,
riparian zones and wetlands matter as much as reduced
water consumption.

American Pelicans, Mendota Pool

American Pelicans, Mendota Pool

As American pelicans paddled through Mendota Pool, I read that wetlands hold 10 to 1,000 times the living matter in nearby dry land.  At dusk, a great-horned owl hunted above as I framed reflections in San Luis NWR.  What a relief from miles of empty concrete canals!  I thanked the sedge grasses rubbing my ankles for absorbing pollutants from nearby crop fields, hog farms and dairy-cattle pens.

Red-winged blackbird, San Luis NWR

Red-winged blackbird, San Luis NWR

An insect hatch sounded like rain on my windshield. I wished for higher levees to better view Pacific Flyway waterfowl in the bottomlands. Someday I hope to see Aleutian crackling geese and the tule elk now protected in San Joaquin NWR.

In 2006 Jared Diamond, Paul Ehrlich, Sandra Postel, Peter Raven, Edward O. Wilson et al. told the Supreme Court:  “More than a source of water and fish, the nation’s rivers, lakes, and wetlands store flood waters and reduce economic devastation due to flooding. They recharge groundwater, filter pollutants, and purify drinking water. And they provide the habitats that sustain a diversity of species, which themselves perform important ecological functions.”3

American egret, San Luis NWR

American egret, San Luis NWR

Despite such support, more than 90% of California’s historic riparian and wetlands habitats are gone (U.S. Fish and Wildlife). Today, the San Joaquin’s riparian habitat is scant.  But these traces of willows, shrubs and grasses support the highest diversity of wildlife in the Central Valley.   Wood ducks, river otters, warblers, eagles, spawning salmon and formerly California bear follow these wooded highways for safety, food and spawning.

Lesser scaup, California Aqueduct, Los Banos

Lesser scaup, California Aqueduct, Los Banos

The drought brought me here.  I saw trickles lead to less water, not more.  Nature seems turned inside out.  Yet American Rivers, other stewards, scientists, stakeholders and policymakers are working together to address needs of natural and human communities.  Just as John Muir wrote in 1885 about accumulating snowflakes in the Sierra, grassroots efforts can affect policy: “Come, we are feeble; let us help one another.  We are many, and together we will be strong.  Marching in close, deep ranks, let us … set the landscapes free.”4

Coots and Northern shovelers, San Luis NWR

Coots and Northern shovelers, San Luis NWR

——-

1 Muir, John.  The Mountains of California.  New York: Viking Penguin, Inc., 1985, Page 15.  (Originally published: New York: Century, 1894.)

2 Basagic, Hassan.  “Twentieth Century Glacier Change in the Sierra Nevada.”

3 Jason Rylander, et al. “Supreme Court Amici Curiae,” Nos 04-1034; 04-1384 regarding John A. Rapanos, et ux., et al., v. USA and June Carabell, et al., v. USACE and US EPA. Jan 12, 2006.

4 Muir, John.  The Mountains of California.  New York: Viking Penguin, Inc., 1985, Page 12.  (Originally published: New York: Century, 1894.)

A glimpse of life in the Omo River Basin

November 17, 2013
Ethiopia:  Omo River Basin, Kundama Farm, a Duss tribal farming community, irrigation canal © Alison M. Jones for www.nowater-nolife.org

Ethiopia: Omo River Basin, Kundama Farm, a Duss tribal farming community, irrigation canal © Alison M. Jones for http://www.nowater-nolife.org

View more images here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/amj-nwnl/sets/72157626365670325/

Omo Valley Cultures in Ethiopia

November 13, 2013

Screen Shot 2013-11-13 at 6.18.23 PM

If man fails to honor the rivers,
he shall not gain life from them.

~ The Code of Hammurabi, 1760 BC

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