Faced with dead pool reservoirs and climate change, western states may finally be getting creative about how to manage water. This is in no small part because in June, the Federal government gave the states served by the Colorado River 60 days to come up with a viable plan or they are going to impose one.
Water rights have been the West’s third rail; no one wanted to touch it. Water rights were tied to property, handed down from owner to owner, with no regard as to the value of its use. Most has been used to “make the desert bloom,” from almonds to alfalfa, cattle to cotton, lettuce and lawns, thirsty crops that don’t belong to the ecosystem. The rest has been sucked up by bloating metropolises like Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Phoenix. If the government removed senior water rights or restricted their use, they could be subject to “takings laws,” forcing the government to pay the owner for the loss of those rights.
You’d think living in the desert would make people careful about water use. But I remember visiting a development in Nevada where the HOA required grass! (We didn’t buy.) As the Great Salt Lake becomes a toxic, fissured flat, households in Salt Lake City use twice the amount of water than the US average. Utah, the second driest state, uses the most water per capita, likely because of low water rates. (Source)
Jon Oliver provides a primer on the situation (with his biting humor) and what might be done about it. (Note: If you’re well versed in the historical problems of Colorado River water allocation, you can jump to 14 min. And I need to give you an F-Bomb warning especially near the end.)