Hiking, Spas and Water in the Southwest: Climate Mama News

I had the wonderful opportunity this year of spending mother’s day with img_4064my mother, a feat not easily accomplished, considering we live on opposite ends of the continent. This year, with prodding from my father, I met my mother and sister-in-law at a wonderful spa in southwestern Utah. Not only did the resort offer regular “spa” opportunities, like massages and facials, but one if it’s main focuses is getting you outdoors, into nature! Hiking, biking and relaxing in the beautiful southwest are all a large part of the program.

All very nice you say, but what does this have to do with climate change? Good question. For those of you who don’t spend a lot of time out in this particular area of the United States, you may be surprised to hear that 2 years ago, St. George Utah (where the spa is located) was the fast growing city in the USA; another of the “fastest” growing cities in the USA, until recently, was the neighboring community of Las Vegas.

Both of these cities are surrounded by beautiful and unique landscapes. They are also smack in the middle of desert areas that, because of manipulation by “man,” also now support many green golf courses, swimming pools and air-conditioned buildings and homes. Both of these cities also go on and off water rationing on a regular basis. The two main sources of water for this area are snowmelts from the local mountain ranges including the South Wasatch range, Rocky Mountains and the

Colorado Plateau, as well as water directly from the Colorado River, which is also the source of water for much of the US southwest and California, a resource that is

Lake Mead visible high water mark, May 2010

Lake Mead visible high water mark, May 2010

showing signs of strain from over use and climate change. I had the pleasure of hiking with a gentleman that spent his career working for the US Geological Survey in the US Southwest. He had recently retired and he had a lot to say about the water scarcity issues in the US, their historical and cyclical nature and the increased stress climate change and population puts on these existing conditions. He remained concerned and alarmed that local and state politicians were too “caught up in getting elected” to do the much needed “long term” land and water use planning that the southwest desperately needs.

The Colorado River faces residential, business and agricultural demands from seven states, two countries and 10’s of millions of people. Unfortunately the rules and regulations governing water use remain incredibly complicated and in most cases, were put in place before we new a lot about climate change and how it would impact this region. Many of the policies are based on climate studies that expect the next 100 years to play out much as the past 100 years have. Not only is this area in its 10th year of a drought, but pressures because of water scarcity from other sources besides the Colorado, are causing some areas that have never taken their full water “allocations” from the Colorado, to begin drawing down on these “rights.” While there are signs that some districts are taking these issues seriously, the construction booms in cities like St. George and Las Vegas, that have slowed only because of the economic downturn, point to the fact that many of our politicians and city planners continue to put their heads in the sand on these critical longer term issues.

I hope someday my daughter and I will be as fortunate as my mother and I and choose to, and will be able to spend time together, hiking, or even at a spa. And if we are lucky enough, I hope we will be able to visit wonderful and unique places like the American southwest, an area that I love. I hope that we as Americans, will wake up quickly, so we begin to wisely conserve water now, and ensure that our existence in this area of the country will be sustainable, over the medium to long term as well. ……What types of building and zoning regulations exist in your community? Are climate change and changing climates considered at all by your local or state governments?

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