Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Preparing for a Sustainable Nevada

As I was sifting through my junk mail earlier this year, I read “welcome to your newsletter” from Southern Nevada Water Authority. I suspected that if the truth in advertising laws were really all that effective, the letter should have said “welcome to your propaganda.” Well... I pretty much got what I expected. What I found were the same old; we're gonna take your water, and you're gonna like it stories. But what struck me as the most blatant of all their BS was the title:

Preparing for a Sustainable Nevada

Excuse me SNWA, but

sustaining unsustainable growth is not sustainability!

Paul Hawken, in his book The Ecology of Commerce, defines sustainability as an economic state where the demands placed upon the environment by people and commerce can be met without reducing the capacity of the environment to provide for future generations.

...So, maybe they're version of a “sustainable Nevada” was more like a hydrologist's interpretation of the Nevada Law. Nevada Law requires that you take of no more water out of the ground than what goes into the ground. Geez Wally, that kinda sounds sustainable. But when you think about it, what that means is stealing all of the ground water from the life that once lived on it. You know, all those water wasting plants on the surface... and all of those animals that once depended on those plants.

Ask any hydrologist. A sustainable groundwater system in Nevada (by law) is one where people pump out just enough water to drop the water table enough to kill all of the life on the surface dependent upon groundwater. That, to a Nevada hydrologist, is a system in balance... How screwed up can we get?

There is good news, however. I was just listening to a representative of SNWA claim that essentially 100% of the water used indoors in Las Vegas gets recycled. Used water ends up returning through the sewage system, through the water treatment plant, back to Lake Mead, and then fresh water is returned back to the city. Excellent! My congratulations on such an efficient system.

But, unfortunately, your users aren't so efficient... This same representative also claimed that most of the water losses were due to evaporation, from use of water outdoors. But in a way, this is good news. Since hardly anyone in Las Vegas does any farming, most all of the evaporative losses are for luxury items; lakes, pools, golf courses, lawns, waterfalls, and non-desert foliage. If Las Vegas can just eliminate it's wasteful evaporative losses, 100% of their water can be recycled, and they won't need any more water. Now, that's sustainability.

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