West's water wars means difficult lifestyle choices ahead


Margaret Coulombe

Do you know how your limited freshwater resources are used? The answers may surprise you. 

• Half of all household use is sprinkled on the yard, and a sizable fraction of the other half is used to flush toilets. This translates to 70 gallons a day per person, on average.

• If reclaimed water could be used instead of precious drinking water for lawns, it would reduce domestic demand by more than 50 percent.

• Farms use 80 percent of the water consumed in the West. More than half of this water reaches the crops via flood irrigation, inefficiently and inexpensively. Conversion to more efficient systems could save 5.6 million to 18.8 million acre feet, as much as half the volume of Lake Mead, per year.

How to balance freshwater needs for farms, cities and ecosystems in a region that is already chronically water stressed will present some difficult lifestyle choices, says John Sabo, a professor in the School of Life Sciences and senior sustainability scholar with the Global Institute of Sustainability at Arizona State University.

Sabo looks carefully into the questions of what we have, where we get it from and how much it costs in his Opinion piece, "California's water wars present difficult lifestyle choices," in the Los Angeles Times on Sept. 1, 2011.

“We should expect to pay more for water in cities as they grow. This revenue should then be earmarked for financing startup costs for irrigation efficiency, reclaimed water systems and to buy back water for ecosystems. Call it what you like. The "T" word. An environmental surcharge. A farm subsidy. I like to think of it as a lifestyle choice … I would rather pay more … and see agriculture and salmon persist in the West than see my grocery bills soar while most of the West waters lawns with tap water.”

Many of these points were brought up by Sabo, Grady Gammage, former Governor Bill Richardson, Heidi Cullen and Pat Mulroy and NBC environmental reporter Anne Thompson at NBC/Discover/ASU Town Hall last month:

"The freshwater in rivers is projected to decline by as much as 30 percent over the next 50 to 90 years. Demand will also increase. California's population is expected to reach 60 million by 2050, a 1.5-fold increase in 50 years,” Sabo said.

Phoenix’s own metro area population is anticipated to top 10.1 million by 2040. A report just released by ASU’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy, “Watering the Sun Corridor,” offers some in-depth insights into Valley of the Sun’s particular challenges, including 10 things that every resident should understand about living in Phoenix:

Sabo points out what this all means in real terms for the regional consumer: It would cost the consumer less to pay more for water at the tap then to pass the buck to farmers and wait for produce prices to increase.

More information can be found:]