October 3, 2016--The future of water in the Southwest--Part 1 (Arizona State University)

Atop Hoover Dam on a 115-degree July afternoon, tourists line up to suck cold water from fountains and crowd into the air-conditioned cafe and visitors’ center. Transpose both those actions to the 30 million people who depend upon that blue-green water behind the dam. That’s water for a jogger in Santa Monica. Water for an oleander hedge in Phoenix. Water for a shower to wash away a night in Vegas. It’s a comforting sight on a scorching day, all that water. What’s disconcerting is the white bathtub ring about 200 feet above the surface. Talk to the experts, and they’ll all tell you the same thing: That ring is never going away again. Between climate change and an ongoing drought, the ring is a stark reminder of another iteration of that hated 21st-century term: the “new normal.” “I think people have come to the recognition that the infrastructure which has served us so well over the last 100 years is not going to do the same job in the next 100 years,” ASU research professor Pat Gober said. That bathtub ring has been growing for years. There’s a number every water professional in the Colorado River Basin knows: 1,075.

When the water in Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam drops below 1,075 feet, it will automatically trigger a round of mandatory water-use cuts to each state. Agriculture will take the first hit. Subsequent cuts tied to lake levels become more draconian. The ring is a visible symbol of how precariously Westerners live. And we do live precariously. Anyone whose air-conditioning has broken during a Phoenix summer or whose car battery has died on the freeway can tell you, it gets unbearable in a hurry. The ancient Hohokam people took off from what is now south-central Arizona during an epic drought in the Medieval Ages. But 30 million people aren’t going to just pick up and leave. If this is the “new normal,” we’re going to have to figure out a way to survive here. There’s no magic bullet. It’s going to take a range of strategies from experts in law, policy, science, and technology. Some of those strategies are already in place. Some won’t exist for another 10 or 20 years. That’s what this story is about. It’s about how a wide range of scientists at Arizona State University are putting their broad and diverse expertise toward solving the problem of how people in the arid West will continue to live sustainably, in a place where people basically have no business living at all. To view the full article visit the Arizona State University.