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The book Water is for Fighting Over: and Other Myths About Water in the West (2016) by author and University of New Mexico Professor John Fleck is an excellent read on the subject of water usage and conservation in the American southwest. Even before today’s crises (historic drought conditions and dropping reservoir levels), his book identifies prior water access and resource related-problems, primarily within the Colorado River Basin. The book identifies many myths regarding water access how these were overcome through cooperative efforts. One of the key myths is the following:
The trick is not to fall victim to the hyperbole or hysteria most commonly based on myths and to instead work in unison to solve water access/availability problems. The “unity of drought” is an all-encompassing regional-to-national issue that often supersedes local and state-specific interests. History has shown time and again that drought-related problems are more regional in nature and cannot be solved alone. Nor will success be achieved by being selfish, combative, and uncooperative. Just ask the state of Arizona, who has lost out on past water allocations, in part due to being obstinate.
Meanwhile, Albuquerque and Las Vegas have both successfully shown how to reduce per capita water consumption while continuing to grow and prosper. Phoenix, on the other hand is at substantial risk as there is little incentive to conserve water in the Valley of the Sun.
None of the accolades noted above are supposed to infer that everything is peachy keen, given the record-breaking western drought continues largely unabated. As a result, continuous collaboration and refinement of plans are imperative. Furthermore, those who have long been excluded from the conversation, particularly Native American communities, must be included in any future water access plans and solutions.
Professor Fleck’s book identifies a number of proven approaches to increase collaboration between all stakeholders, which include the following:
- Start small and informally to develop trust and a shared understanding
- Find common ground through “cheap talk” – casual conversations versus formal situations and formats
- Determine the extent of the problem – characteristics that successful efforts have in common, include:
- Maintain an on-going dialogue by the parties/communities affected.
Meanwhile, hysteria, hyperbole, and selfishness will do nothing to help or resolve the current drought situation. They only make finding solutions and making tough decisions more difficult than they need to be.
It’s unfortunate that media coverage tends to focus on problems rather than solutions. The following headline from the July 22, 2022, edition of the Washington Post is a recent example:
While making for great click-bait, such articles rarely provide answers or hope. Instead, they tend to have the opposite effect by perpetuating myths and/or misinformation. While the headline certainly sounds ominous, one could also make the case that the Rio Grande running dry once in 40 years is proof that strong water conservation efforts over the past four decades have been highly successful in the Albuquerque area, as is demonstrated by the chart below.
Furthermore, water conservation programs in the Albuquerque area include, but are not limited to the following:
- Credits of up to $2.00/square foot of turf grass lawn when replaced with desert-friendly landscapes towards water utility bills
- DroughtSmart classes for water utility customers to earn a $20 water bill rebate
- Water Smart Academy for landscape professionals
- Doubled fines for wasting water during drought emergencies
- Water restrictions between 11:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. from April 1-through October 31
- Water waste violation hotlines to report inappropriate use of water
- Rebates for the purchases and installation of rain barrels
- 25 percent “treebate” on the purchase of new desert-tolerant trees
- 25 percent rebate up to $500 for installation of approved WaterSense smart irrigation controllers
- Required installation of flow restriction devices after multiple water violations.
As the data above clearly indicates, water conservation efforts should be widely applauded in the Albuquerque area. Applying these successes elsewhere across the Southwest should go a long way towards addressing the ongoing drought and should also help dispel the many myths and misconceptions that can cloud water issues.
- personal knowledge