Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Dry Pipes

An article from the New York Times yesterday has highlighted the problem of water supply that exists along the lower Colorado water system that ultimately supplies water to California via the Colorado River Aqueduct. The entire watershed system that supplies the water is undergoing severe drought stress, and the population around Las Vegas has grown exponentially since the 1950's. This is building into a long-range scenario due to climate change, and strategies for conserving water are inadequate in the face of this plumbing design that was created for a different climate, and assumed that certain high-consumption lifestyles were to remain the norm. Las Vegas is quite close to the dry pipe scenario right now, which will escalate tensions about water supplies and rights in this region. An article in The Smithsonian describes how that urban region is trying to deal with the shortage created by development and climate change.

An excellent National Geographic article published in April of this year examined the statewide scope of the water supply problem in California. It traces the history of water supply evolution from the Bay Delta provision for the farming areas of the San Joaquin valley to the State Water Projects that sent imported water over miles of pipeline to rapidly-growing urban areas. This water system, now nearly obsolete, has fostered the illusion of plentiful water in basically a desert environment. Since this system has clearly hit its limits, other strategies must come into play. As the article states:

Therein lies a crucial part of the solution, water experts say, one much simpler and closer to home than a massive plumbing patch: learning to live within the water resources of an arid landscape. Fully 70 percent of residential water in southern California is used outside the home for lawns, pools, and other niceties. Reducing that demand by using drought-resistant plants and recycling wastewater offers the fastest and cheapest potential water savings in the state.

I would add to that the design of "net zero" structures (energy and water) and landscaping that not only conserves water but produces it without consuming huge amounts of energy is key to the solution. This involves employing the natural cycles in place, and the use of site-based design to create self-sustaining environments with the buildings and facilities acting as "partners" in the process, rather than economic behemoths that try to overwhelm nature and stifle its processes in order to create "investments". Restoration of natural systems and terrain in an intelligent approach to this problem would provide sustainable urban and suburban habitation as well as mitigate the impact of human system on local ecologies.

The method of accounting for these costs and balances, as I've detailed before, is a methodology known as Natural Capitalism.