Is the U.S. West going the way of parched Australia?

March 10, 2009

The drought-induced infernos which ravaged parts of Australia earlier this year may be a harbinger of the water challenges coming to the American West.

 ”Think of that (Australia) as California’s future,” water researcher Heather Cooley of California’s Pacific Institute told my colleague Peter Henderson. You can see his report, part one of our series on water scarcity in the U.S. West, here.

Plush green golf courses in the desert, verdant boulevards in Los Angeles and fountains that dance 20 stories high in Las Vegas are very much part of today’s landscape and life in the American West.  As California author James Powell says: “Add water and you have the instant good life.”

But as the reports in our series show, the region is in for some tough decisions on the water front as urban populations swell, farmland competes for dwindling supplies, and climate change models predict more droughts and floods and a melting of the snowpack so crucial to life in the West.

Yet in a region known for its technological innovation, the U.S. West could also be a leader in  showing the world how to deal with water crisis. Learn more in parts two, three and four of the series, this week.

Photo credit: Reuters/David Becker (The “bathtub ring” grows as water levels drop in Lake Mead, near Las Vegas, Nevada, February 2009 )

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NOAA and Scripps computer generated models predicted a hotter and drier southwest for almost ten years now. They also predicted increased wildfire activity,and loss of habitat. These developments should be no surprise to anyone.

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