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While improving water culture and citizen awareness to water-related issues are the first steps to buffering potential water crises, collective responsibility through city planning and local water restrictions must follow. An industrial economy strengthens under smart water management and policy, but a lack of policy can prevent growth and diminish currently thriving cities.

Planning Conservation

Nearly everything we use, from the cars in our driveways to the phones in our hands, requires hundreds to thousands of gallons to create and maintain. How will we continue to produce these everyday goods when wells start to run dry? The world is currently experiencing rapid population growth and urbanization, two factors which are making development of water polices even more complex and demanding. Governmental officials and city planners are collectively responsible for making water the lens in which they draw out the future of a city—making room for policy that calls for fundamental change in the way water management is implemented.

Below our feet lies an immense infrastructure of channels and pipes, sustaining city life through the transfer of water by moving it from large aquifers to densely populated areas (Note: Some of the issues with existing water infrastructure is discussed in the first blog here). High-density urban developments like those in Las Vegas overburden already exhausted water systems. At this rate, the end result will be a water-deficient environment that suppresses industry and censors individual water supplies.

Over ninety-percent of Las Vegas’s water comes from the Colorado River, the diversion of which depletes flow through the Grand Canyon. Through this water, the Las Vegas population has hit 2.2 million and is growing by 127 people a day— increasing the city’s already massive demand.

Las Vegas’s problem is compounded by one fact: the city doesn’t have a water reuse system. Instead, water evaporates out of the water features on The Strip, is used to maintain the bright green planted grass that seems to be everywhere you look, and is generally perceived as ‘single-use’. How low will the city’s reservoir get before planners implement conservation strategies? Of course, taking actions like recycling water, turning off sprinklers, and putting their many golf courses on a diet won’t eliminate the threat to the city’s water supply. It’s a slow start to say the least. A true solution starts with asking the question: “How do you grow a city without depleting water reserves?”

Practical Steps

To propose a simple first step toward protecting this environmental and sociological necessity: stop watering the grass. Your lawn may go from blazing green to Tuscan brown, but sustainability isn’t always pretty. It may be a cultural about-face to put aside current notions of what is aesthetically pleasing, but it is a critical part in creating efficiency. Second, the city must improve public transit. Although not particularly intuitive, more cars cause more water use. Producing, maintaining, cleaning, and fueling cars all create water waste that could be negated through investments in public transportation. Third, cities must encourage a creative and knowledgeable workforce. A water-sustainable city starts with its citizens (city planners included) recognizing problems and being educated on current environmental issues. Education gives individuals the platform to question the lifecycle of their clothes, cars, and water, and can result in a different, more sustainable end-point for reuse.

The way city planners cope with urban water issues should reflect public concern for environmental quality of water resources outside of the city limits and exploitation of land and water that keeps the city afloat. Controlling development of any city rather than growth for the sake of growth presents water resources into the planning process and recognizes the hydrological consequences that result from neglect. Operating through a lens of conservation culture can absorb the shock to city water resources before the tap runs dry.

Further Reading:

Why city planners should make water a top priority

Poor Urban Planning, Poor Urban Life. Simple.

 Las Vegas Area Population Hits 2.2 Million and Growing 127+ a Day

Role of Water in Urban Planning Management