Water~Cashing In On An Environmental Issue

Water: A Powerful Resource

You’ve heard the adage that water and oil don’t mix. But don’t be surprised if they play out their role as vital assets in the same sand box.

Just look to our neighbors in the western U.S., specifically Las Vegas, Nevada, to measure just how important water is at this moment.

Water? The same valuable natural asset status as oil? Who would have thought that could ever be the case?

Actually, a hundred years ago President Theodore -Teddy- Roosevelt did. “The nation behaves well if it treats its natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased, and not impaired, in value.”

This famous quote by President Roosevelt in 1907 to the United States Congress was one of many oracle examples of a man ahead of his own generation’s individual and industrialized bad habits. His speeches unveiled an intellectual understanding of conservation and environmental stewardship. He was quite the motivator.

Paddle forward 100 years and the signs of increased water appreciation are rearing their head and peeking into your wallet.

Depending on what area of the United States you flip on the faucet determines if that is a good thing or a not-so good thing.

Let’s tackle the bad side of the issue first. One example of a not-so-good thing would be the email that landed in my inbox yesterday from a Central Florida homeowner, aghast that their water bill had jumped to $314.12 this month.

That’s more than I paid to fill my car with gasoline in the past three months.

Case In Point: Jack Daniels and Las Vegas

A quick look through your local and national news source and you’ll see a variety of water deficit indicators popping up across the US.

Tennessee’s low water table is threatening the Jack Daniel’s distillery where water conservation is in full swing.

Further out west in the sandy desert Nevada’s Hoover Dam is 107 feet below its traditional level. Higher residential populations in the Colorado region challenge as quick of a recovery experienced in the 1950s, 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, according to Bob Walsh, the external affairs officer for the lower Colorado region of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. The Bureau manages the dam that includes services to southern Nevada, southern California and Arizona–the constituencies of the Lower Colorado River basin region.

Nevada, Arizona, southern California; I picture a sandbox. It’s in the desert. What did they expect?

And perhaps that sand-box scenario is why they are ahead of the curve in reshaping just how cavalier the end-user chooses to be and just how much of this valuable natural asset they consume. Would you believe a popular option is a turf-free lawn? Could you imagine?

Giving Up The Grass

Bob Walsh upgraded from his previous home of a “small” amount of grass to a home with “no grass” in Nevada. In our discussion of our vastly different cultures, Bob reminded me that in the U.S., the typical single-family suburban household uses at least 30 percent of their water outdoors for irrigation according to the EPA.

Some experts estimate that more than 50 percent of landscape water use goes to waste due to evaporation or runoff caused by over-watering according to the EPA.

A turf free landscape is a far cry from the theme of Michael Pollan’s book, Second Nature (Dell Publishing 1991), where “the democratic system can cope with the nonvoter far more easily than the democratic landscape can cope with the non-mower..” The popular water conservation way of life that Bob Walsh described for the western region was a vastly different model than I witness in the far southeast.

Policy on the local, state, and federal level can be crafted. But how do we truly motivate change on the user-end? Reward or punish?

Show Me The Money

Las Vegas rewards homeowners in cash for removing turf from their landscape. The Las Vegas Water Valley District website provides information on several rebates and coupons for their patrons. By upgrading existing grass to a new water-smart landscape, participants receive a rebate of $2 per square foot for the first 1,500 square feet of grass converted to xeriscape. Areas in excess of 1,500 square feet receive $1 per square foot.

Cha-ching. There’s a fine line between manipulation and motivation. Nevada has set a fine example for us to follow.

No matter where you live, it’s time to take notice of just how important water is to you and your landscape. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, there’s a reason that water has become a national priority. A recent government survey showed at least 36 states are anticipating local, regional, or statewide water shortages by 2013. But by using water more efficiently, we can help preserve water supplies for future generations, save money, and protect the environment.

How do you engage people who have not felt the impact of this resource?

The answer: Cash.

Depending on where you live, that might mean cashing in on a very present environmental issue.

Author: Kay Borglum, MS

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