LAS VEGAS – Future droughts in the West and Southwest United States may be longer and more severe because of a regional warming trend that shows no signs of letting up, according to a new report from the National Research Council.
The report concludes that although technology and conservation will not solve the challenge of limited water supplies in the long run, conservation measures are necessary.
Because 60 percent to 80 percent of all residential water use in the Southwest is used on lawns, it only makes sense that switching to a synthetic lawn like NewGrass™ can have a major positive impact on water conservation efforts.
The Public Policy Institute of California, a San Francisco-based think tank, has said, for example, that residential lawns in California could help suck parts of the state dry. A report from the institute says that although the issue is of more concern in hot, inland areas in the Central Valley that are growing, even the state’s coastal communities will eventually feel the pinch.
A long-term water conservation research project sponsored by the country’s third-largest public utility company, in Arizona, has put synthetic grass side-by-side with natural local grasses and xeriscaping to determine artificial grass’s long-term feasibility. The Salt River Project (SRP) is sponsoring the research as part of its ongoing efforts to help give consumers new and better information about water conservation alternatives.
Reconstructions of the flow of the Colorado River over hundreds of years based on studies of tree rings show that average annual flows vary more than previously assumed and extended droughts are not uncommon.
The Natural Research Council study says very strong evidence suggests that rising temperatures will continue to reduce the river’s flow and water supplies, potentially affecting the flow of water to southern California, Nevada, Arizona and Colorado. The report further warns that coping with water shortages is becoming more difficult – the result of rapid population growth and rising temperatures.
The combination of limited water supplies, rapidly increasing populations, warmer regional temperatures and the likelihood of recurrent drought all point to the potential for endemic conflict among current and future water users, the report concludes. [more]
Greg Goehner, president of NewGrass™ said that public awareness of the need to conserve water is increasingly becoming a reason people choose to replace their natural turf lawns with artificial grass.
“More and more, it’s not only a lifestyle choice,” Goehner said. “It’s not only about having a lawn they can really enjoy or that their kids can play on all year. It’s that, plus the water savings they seem to be realizing we need to achieve over the long term.”
Ernst Smirden, a scientist at the University of Arizona, chaired the panel that conducted the study for the National Research Council, part of the National Academy of Sciences.
“The preponderance of scientific evidence certainly suggests that the warmer temperatures will reduce Colorado River-flow and water supplies in the future,” Smirden told National Public Radio. “We think, in all probability, there will be droughts in the future that will be more severe than anything that we have experienced.”
Exceptionally dry conditions in much of the Colorado River basin in recent years, along with new stream-flow reconstructions based on tree-ring data, prompted the Research Council to convene a panel to examine how weather and climate trends might affect the river’s future flows.
For many years, understanding of the river’s flow was based primarily on records from stream gages. But the tree-ring data is transforming that understanding by demonstrating that the river occasionally shifts into decades-long periods in which average flows are lower, or higher, than the 15 million-acre-feet average of the record the gages show.
In particular, the tree-ring reconstructions show that the years 1905-1920 were exceptionally wet. This is significant because the Colorado River Compact that governs the allocation of water between upper and lower basin states was signed in 1922 – when it was assumed that annual average river flow was closer to 16.4 million acre-feet. Tree-ring data also indicate that extended droughts are a recurrent feature of the basin’s climate.