"We found that many of the most rapidly growing cities and most important croplands in the U.S. are precisely in those western arid lands incapable of supporting them with regionally generated stream flow," Sabo said.
To reclaim sustainability in the Cadillac Desert, the team suggests several important and tough measures. One is aimed at lowering the huge amount of surface water required to sustain the region's population.
"We suggest an initially modest target of a 16 percent reduction (to 60 percent total) in the fraction of stream flow withdrawn," the researchers state. This alone would require the seven states that make up the region to do several things they have yet to do, including improving urban water use efficiency, implementing a desalinization system by coastal cities, improvements in land-use practices that minimize erosion and sediment infilling of the region's reservoirs and implementing modified crop portfolios that include only salt tolerant and cash crops.
"The water crisis in the West is a regional one," Sabo said. "This suggests that local conservation efforts (shorter showers, banning lawns, installing a gray-water recycling systems) are necessary but not sufficient for a solution. Regional and national policy changes are called for," he added.
"The cards are stacked high against freshwater sustainability in the West," Sabo added. "Something will have to give, and it likely will be the price of water and high quality produce. If water were priced appropriately (by market forces or policy mandates), we would become much more efficient with water use in cities and on farms, and we would likely do agriculture completely differently than we do it now in the Western U.S."
|Contact: Skip Derra|
Arizona State University