We recently got an e-mail tip from a reader, who will not be named, and for reasons that will soon be obvious. It read: “Golf courses and water parks perpetuate the illusion that there’s NO water shortage. sHut them all!”
While it’s fun to make fun of typos and strange capitalization as if this was a Strong Bad e-mail, our fat-fingered friend does make a good point that’s worth addressing.
You see, there are two kinds of places: There are places with too much water, and there are places that seem to almost always have too little water. The southwest (which, this time, includes California) is one of the latter. In New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and California, old habits of making settlements look like things did “back east,” with lush trees and lawns, isn’t a sustainable practice. Snow pack isn’t what it used to be, so rivers aren’t carrying as much water as they once did, and now reservoirs like Lake Mead are running out of water.
This may sound incredible to people in the Midwest, who often have too much water to deal with. Farmers have to put drain pipes in fields to make certain crops grow, and flooding is a problem more often than people would like.
With too much water in some places and too little in others, the idea of just moving the water sounds good on the surface. If the United States put more water in the Colorado River from upstream, it would solve several water shortages. The money that has already been spent preparing to move water from the Colorado River is astronomically high, so adding more water to the riverbed would allow everyone To keep using it as they have been. If officials put this new batch of Water upstream of Lake Powell, then we’d end up with a few overflowing reservoirs That could provide everybody who used to get their H2O from the now-dry Colorado — back when flows were higher — all the hydration they need.
Getting so much water from the Mississippi River and transporting it to Colorado isn’t as simple as it sounds. In terms of distance, quantities of water, and terrain, this venture would dwarf all previous efforts. It would create a project that goes down in history as an engineering marvel. Financing all of the construction and then operations financing would be impossible.
Other options, like desalination plants and piping in fresh water from the coasts, are also prohibitively expensive and probably impossible.
So, that leaves us with water conservation, which is something nobody wants to do. But, not doing it isn’t really a choice.
For one, people need to drink water. Wasting it on lawns, washing cars, and in some cases, swimming pools isn’t a good idea because we’d run out of drinking water. There’s also the problem of used food not being palatable or safe to eat, so we need to put enough water to agriculture to keep the new food coming.
And then there are the ecological problems that come with drying everything up because we can’t stop using too much water. A great example is the Great Salt Lake in Utah, which recently hit record lows again. If conservation doesn’t happen, there will be serious consequences for the state and its neighbors.
The dust at the bottom of the basin can create problems. When it dries up, winds can kick it up and transport it to cities or mountains. In this 2012 satellite image from NASA, you can see how dried-up remnants of prehistoric Lake Bonneville are doing this exact thing. A feedback loop also results from a smaller lake. With the absence of a large lake to generate lake effect snow, rivers have less water. Consequently, there’s less water being returned to the lake — thus quick drying-up leaving those who overused its resources with little tourist traffic and even less water.
People Don’t Like Giving Things Up
There are solutions to this problem, but people don’t like them.
When it comes to our homes, a number of things have to go. Lawns that cover the whole front yard, the sides, and the back? Nope. Everyone can’t have one of those in the desert. We thought we could get away with that back in the day through irrigation and water projects, but the sources are all drying up, and choices have to be made if we want to drink and eat.
We might even have to rethink toilets, because sewer systems and water systems use an immense amount of water. Composting toilets, a home composting system for a garden, grey water reuse (where feasible), and similar practices can have a significant influence when used in tandem with water efficiency. When combined with rainwater collection (where applicable), this may make the entire household an energy-independent entity that doesn’t send any of its waste to be disposed of in the environment apart from its own.
But, getting people to give up lawns and a normal toilet is a tough sell.
The Tough Sell Is Hard When You See Others Not Doing It
This is where we get back to the reader’s point. If the city is making it too expensive to keep your well-manicured lawn and you’re thinking of putting in composting toilets to keep the water bill from eating too much of your household budget, it’s hard to not feel some resentment toward the golf course up the street and the water park across town. If we let those businesses keep running as usual, some people will use them as proof that there’s no real shortage, and maybe it’s all some sort of conspiracy against the American way.
But, there’s another side to this: the people who would be mad when they have no way to enjoy water at all. With the lawn gone, car washing in the driveway basically prohibited, and even toilets changing, losing that last bit of green space in town and that last watering hole could prove to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
We’ve Got To Leave People With Some Dignity, & We Can Get Away With It
While a golf course is a big place, it’s small compared to all of the lawns in the suburbs put together. Getting people to rip up lawns and xeriscape, conserve water, and make other sacrifices is a lot easier if there’s at least one neighborhood park with some grass everyone can enjoy. The city can use reclaimed water for parks, minimizing their impact.
The same is true for golf courses. Leaving people who gave up the green space next to their home shouldn’t be forced to give up every form of green space in their lives. Watering golf courses with reclaimed water and keeping them available to the golfing public can be a big mental help for people who want to see some green.
Water parks can’t use the same water grass at parks and golf courses can, but once again, letting people have a few nice things is important if you want them to be on board for sacrifice somewhere else. Instead of being symbols of waste, they can be part of what keeps the shared sacrifice mentally sustainable for people.
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