A group of agencies that supply water to millions of customers in the western US has agreed installing lawns in public spaces in multiple states as part of an effort to reduce water use as the Colorado River continues to suffer from a major drought.
More than 30 agencies that extract water from the river signed the conservation agreement last week. The pledge pledges to remove 30% of lawns and replace them with “drought and climate resilient landscaping while preserving vital urban landscapes and tree canopies” that benefit communities and wildlife. The agencies will remove the many well-manicured lawns seen in parking lots, neighborhood entrances and medians.
Although lawns are seemingly harmless, they use a lot of water. A 2016 study co-authored by NASA scientists highlighted that grass growing in arid states (like California, for example) can be responsible for up to 75% of a household’s water use. Agencies such as the Southern Nevada Water Authority have incentivized property owners to trade lawns for plants that absorb much less water, such as trees with drip irrigation.
“Replacing this grass with trees and plants with drip irrigation will save approximately 9.5 billion gallons of water, which is approximately 10% of our community’s total water allocation from Lake Mead/Colorado River,” a spokesperson for the Southern Nevada Water Authority said. authority in an email.
So far, the commitment is a little light on details. The agencies promised to expand water recycling efforts, though they didn’t explain how. The agreement also did not specify how the regional agricultural industry will reduce its water use, although it did acknowledge that cities do not use most of the water that comes from the river. Urban areas use about one-fifth of the Colorado River’s water, while agriculture accounts for the rest, the Associated Press reported. ‘Cities – the 20% – cannot solve the math problem. But we can certainly help solve the problem,” said John Entsminger, the general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, according to the Associated Press.
Communities in the west are already feeling the ripple effects of some recent water conservation efforts. A small town of 500 near the foothills of the Rio Verde in Arizona may be without water by the end of this year. The city does not have its own water and gets it from nearby Scottsdale. But late last year, Scottsdale announced it would stop shipping water to the city by 2023. City officials cited water shortages in the Colorado River for the closure. Scottsdale gets about 65% of its water from the river, and officials are trying to reduce usage by cutting off water supplies to the small town.
If the region does not continue to reduce water use from the Colorado River, major reservoirs such as Lake Powell and Lake Mead could dry up in just three years. And it doesn’t look like the country’s water problems will go away any time soon. Last month, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that the US is heading for another super-dry winter. Nearly all of California, Nevada and Utah are expected to continue to experience drier-than-average conditions and less-than-average precipitation.
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