Cities in U.S. Southwest face thirsty times

March 11, 2009

The fast-growing U.S. Southwest has a problem: too many people, not enough water.

But then, what do you expect when you build cities like Las Vegas in the middle of a desert?

My colleagues Tim Gaynor and Steve Gorman have done a story on this, looking at the water woes of Los Angeles and Las Vegas. You can see their report here and other stories from our water package here.

Tim joined the “water warriors” of Las Vegas, city investigators who enforce restrictions on usage; Steve looked at the dire situation in Los Angeles, America’s second largest city.


Tim accompanied waste water investigator Dennis Demera as he followed a tell-tale trickle of water up the dusty concrete gutter to a house in suburban Las Vegas, the United States’ driest big city.

This is one of the violations that we look for,”  Demera said, pointing to a broken sprinkler head in the sparse lawn of the detached home in residential Surfline Drive.

A water cop employed by the Southern Nevada Water Authority, it is Demera’s job to claw back wasted water one gallon at a time — and it’s a job for our times.

 Most of the U.S. Southwest’s fast growing cities are built either in the scalding deserts or on their fringes, where H2O has always been a scarce resource.

Now as the area is hit by droughts and higher temperatures, possibly linked to climate change, water scarcity is driving those desert cities to respond to scarcity in a variety of ways.

It begs the question: should cities of such size exist in such places in the first place? Is this kind of urban growth really sustainable into the future? What do you think?

Photo credit: Reuters/David Becker (Las Vegas water sleuth Dennis Demera looks for leaks, February 2009)


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You tell as it is.

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Posted by Leonard Berg | Report as abusive

Short answers are no and no! It never was sustainable. Water authorities new from the beginning. The short term interests of a big profit resort city trumped any meaningful discussion of long term impact, if there even was such a discussion. This is our inheritance, a result of corporations inability to see past quarterly profits. One hell of a way to build a future.

Posted by Anubis | Report as abusive

Las Vegas would be fine if California didnt suck up 60% of the water out of Lake Mead and the Colorado River because they can’t find/make enough water in their own state…

Let’s not start with the “Should these cities even exist?” By that logic, LA and San Francisco need to be shut down immediately due to earthquakes(and lack of their own water supply), the Midwest due to tornadoes, the Southeast due to hurricanes (and if you haven’t been paying attention, they are in the middle of a bigger drought than the Southwest), the northeast because of their ice storms and the northwest because it has to potential to flood due to rain.

This article is pure 100% bs, pure and simple.

Posted by John | Report as abusive

Interesting comment John. I agree.

Why are we concentrating only on water when considering urban location and planning. You are right on when talking about California. It is a social,economic and environmental disaster. Why should Arnold be able to take 60% of water from Lk. Mead?

Why expand and promote life in earth quake faults, annual forest fires areas which have fuel build up because ENGo’s don’t allow management, flodd zones etc.

Development should include a wholistic approach which includes common sense and this has been lost when only water is being targeted as it relates to climate change.

Posted by buffalojump | Report as abusive