Day of reckoning for the parched Southwest: technology and conservation won’t be enough

Original Reporting | By T.J. Lewan |

We’d just see cactus gardens adjacent to freeways instead of lush lawns; backyards without private swimming pools; golf courses with wider sand traps and artificial turf. But most industries – aerospace, software, computer chip manufacturing, car manufacturing and many services – would do just fine under a less water-intensive, sustainable model, Zetland says. These industries will not only sustain lots of jobs, he says, but could also “employ more people by using less water per job. The whole idea is to squeeze more productivity out of the water.”

The big losers, he says, will be investors in “cheap-water” businesses: grass clippers, swimming pool installers, car washers to name a few – and some players in the agricultural industry. Water-intensive produce would be grown in regions that get more water naturally, and ranchers would go back to raising cattle on ranges, instead of growing dairy cows inside air-conditioned tents. Not all agricultural water would necessarily be transferred to the cities; farmers will sell water to one another.

Of course, if word gets out that a monthly water bill is higher than a mortgage payment, builders – or anyone else who promises cheap living with inexpensive water and air conditioning – are going to have a tough slog, says Ackerman, the economist and energy consultant.

“The Western dream,” he says, “is going to come with an asterisk that says ‘P.S. Bring your own water.’”


Send a letter to the editor