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Water use: something we Arizonans can control


It’s an understatement to say that we’ve had a pretty grim new year so far here in the Grand Canyon State. First, of course, was the horrifying shooting rampage in Tucson on January 8th. Plenty has been said already about the possible causes and implications of that tragic event, and plenty more hard things need to be said both nationally and regionally about how citizens, armed or not, should treat each other, sane or not. A few days after the massacre the Arizona legislature convened and set about, as promised, to balance the budget by ruthlessly gutting education and indigent health care. The state motto is ditat deus, “God enriches,” and we can only hope it’s true, because there’ll be scanty enrichment around here for anyone except weapons dealers from now on.

Out of all this despair came one tiny ray of hope in the form of a news story. The Arizona Republic reported a few days ago that the amount of snow pack in the mountains surrounding the Colorado River watershed is well above average. HCN Associate Editor Sarah Gilman also blogged about this promising situation recently from her birds-eye perspective in chilly Paonia, CO. If it doesn’t melt too quickly, it may fill Lake Mead enough to stave off the severe rationing that had been predicted, perhaps even until 2015. We’ve been hearing about the dire situation at Mead for some years now, so this comes as something of a relief.

So, I got to thinking that maybe for once we Arizonans can learn a lesson from a non-crisis situation. We may have been granted a temporary reprieve from mandatory rationing, but why can’t we get the ball rolling on reducing our water usage as though we need to ration? Both Los Angeles and Southern Nevada currently restrict sprinkler use and other domestic watering; those of you in other areas of the West have probably had similar restrictions at some point. It’s a real head-scratcher that we who live in one of the driest regions in the country have been shielded from this for so long. Each region is different, of course, and ‘Zonies cling to their water rights with hardly less zeal than did their Old West forebears, who fought prolonged and bloody feuds over them (I know – the gun thing, sadly, goes way back). Still, limiting landscape watering to a few days per week, as L.A. does, hardly seems devastating, especially if such changes can be enacted through persuasion and gradual implementation, rather than the “big stick” approach that will be necessary when extreme shortages finally occur.

One argument can be the encouraging success of other water-saving methods, such as the widespread adoption of xeriscaping and drip irrigation in urban Phoenix and Tucson. Those homeowners, businesses, and municipalities who have installed such features have less maintenance to do. Probably, they’re only watering one or two days per week already, which is also a big money-saver. This final argument, thrift, adds the “justice” element to the scenario. Times are tough and getting tougher. Water costs will keep going up, and if we can make incremental changes that will benefit everyone, even the poorest residents, why not start? Sure, sprinklers and hoses may not be the biggest culprits in the complex equation that is Western water use, but, unlike gun laws and unstable people, they’re within the control of individuals. That’s something.

Essays in the Just West blog are not written by High Country News. The authors are solely responsible for the content.

Jackie Wheeler teaches writing and environmental rhetoric at Arizona State University, where she is also the Associate Director of Writing Programs. Outside academia, she’s an avid rafter, kayaker, and horsewoman who also attempts to garden. When possible, she escapes the Phoenix metro area for an undisclosed location in Southeastern Utah.