Federal officials’ call for massive cuts along the Colorado River has water managers in the American West scrambling to find common ground before the federal government comes down with its own proverbial hammer. It’s a blow Southern Nevada is well positioned to absorb, thanks to a two-decade head start on conservation and significant investments in infrastructure to ensure water continues to flow in the Las Vegas Valley even in the worst of conditions.
“We’re far and away the best positioned,” said John Entsminger, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority.
For more than 20 years the authority has pushed for conservation efforts to reduce the valley’s water consumption. And those efforts have paid off. Nevada consumed 242,000 acre-feet of water in 2021, roughly about 80 percent of the 300,000 acre-feet of Colorado River water its entitled to annually under a series of agreements that stretch back 100 years. That’s more than 80,000 acre-feet, or about 27 million gallons, less than the Las Vegas Valley consumed in 2002 when there were 800,000 fewer residents.
Still, Lake Mead’s levels have continued to decline over the past two decades as a persistent drought has strained the Colorado River…
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation said last week that climate-change-fueled shortages along the Colorado River basin will require additional cuts of 2 million to 4 million acre-feet next year to preserve critical levels at Lake Mead and Lake Powell.
Entsminger doesn’t foresee outright limitations on development or growth amid those cuts. But the reductions along the river that supplies about 90 percent of Southern Nevada’s water could move up the need for future conservation efforts and will put a larger magnifying glass on what kinds of companies and businesses Southern Nevada can target for economic development.
Glen Canyon Dam created an opportunity. At the time of its construction, this opportunity was sometimes viewed in terms of water storage, power generation and flood control. Recreation on newly-formed Lake Powell, while clearly envisioned as a planned benefit, was perceived by some as a byproduct of the other reasons the dam was built, rather than as a primary purpose. That perception must change to align with current realities.
Lake Powell, which was once a remote but breathtaking recreational outpost with little supporting infrastructure, had by 2019 become a $420 million economic engine each year, and that’s just from direct revenue generated, not even counting any multiplier effect in the region. Annual visitation, which in 1967 was under 500,000, had increased eight-fold by the end of the second decade of the 21st century. By 2019, recreation on Lake Powell was producing more revenue than the power generated through the dam, a trend that will likely continue as other new energy options present themselves, but only if—and this is the crucial part—Lake Powell and its supporting infrastructure continue to exist and be maintained.
Water supply issues are evolving as well. Water rights have been well-established, and the seven states in the Upper and Lower Basin, along with Mexico, work closely with the Bureau of Reclamation to manage water supply based on a series of laws and protocols first established a century ago. But the legal framework they operate under no longer works as intended, especially as long-term drought has gripped the region, especially in the 21st century. As water supply from the Colorado River has become less reliable, water managers in those states will become more creative with conservation practices while working to develop new supplies through recycled water, desalination opportunities, and engineered solutions.
As the need to focus on water and power from the Colorado River system continues to diminish, the importance of recreational opportunities only increases. Lake Powell is a unique resource not just in the country, but in the entire world: a desert oasis providing unlikely access to some of the most beautiful canyons on the planet, while providing a haven for anglers, campers, hikers and anybody with a camera. It’s an international treasure.
As times have changed, so must the focus of those who manage the lake. Priorities change. The purpose of the dam and the lake it created have evolved. While there are loud and persistent voices who see draining the lake as the only reasonable path forward, we offer an alternative vision. Now is the time to Fill Lake Powell.
If yes, then you’re familiar with Denver Water’s decadelong campaign, launched a few years after the 2002 drought, that urged customers to reduce the amount of water they used in their everyday lives.
The occasionally cheeky campaign showcased images like a park bench with only room for one person, water from a broken sprinkler head cascading onto a giant billboard and suggestions for using less water — like showering with a friend.
And it worked. By the time the campaign — created by Denver’s Sukle Advertising & Design — ended in 2015, water use by Denver Water’s customers had dropped 22% compared to usage before the drought.
The “Use Only What You Need” campaign has been recognized repeatedly over the years for its effectiveness and memorability, and on May 17 the Out of Home Advertising Association of America inducted it into the OBIE Hall of Fame, a group dominated by advertising campaigns backed by national and international brand names.
“Denver Water’s signature orange box asking customers to ‘Use Only What You Need’ became advertising legend in the Denver metro area,” said Jim Lochhead, Denver Water CEO/Manager.
“In a light-hearted and at times outrageous way, the campaign led the charge for our conservation programing where we had a critical call to action: Reduce water use by 22%. Eight years after achieving that goal, Use Only What You Need has remained a one-of-a-kind catchphrase that has continued to help Coloradans embrace a culture of conservation, which is so vital in the arid West where water is such a precious resource.”
Out-of-home advertising is visual advertising outside of the home, such as billboards, indoor and outdoor signs, ads on bus shelters or benches, in airports or train stations, and in a stadium or movie theater.
Previous OBIE Hall of Fame winners include the insurance company Geico (2021), entertainment giants The Walt Disney Co. (2007) and Universal Studios (2019), brewer MillerCoors (2018) and technology company Apple Inc. (2005).
Competition for the 2022 Hall of Fame award put Denver Water up against international heavyweights — and household names — Google, Netflix, Procter & Gamble Co., Pepsi and Samsung.
In the 30-year history of the OBIE Hall of Fame awards, Denver Water’s award is only the second time a regional brand has won the judges’ nod. The first was the San Diego Zoo in 1995.
“This is one of the highest creative honors in our industry, and we are immensely proud to be recognized by OAAA and our peers,” said Mike Sukle, owner of Sukle Advertising & Design.
“Creating and managing the campaign for a decade shaped how we approach every campaign we create. It cemented our philosophy that work must be both smart and creative to generate exceptional results. And while mass media including out of home was critical, the campaign spread almost as much through word-of-mouth. Our audience became our media. That’s an important lesson for all brands. And if you can make people like you, they may also listen to you,” he said.
Anna Bager, president and CEO of the association, called Denver Water’s campaign “truly brilliant and entertaining.”
“Denver Water has achieved legendary out-of-home status with a sustained level of creative excellence over many years. Their commitment to the ‘Use Only What You Need’ headline came to life in a seemingly endless number of creative solutions,” she said.
And while Denver Water’s message that water is precious and should be used wisely hasn’t changed, the utility’s campaign around water has evolved into a simple main message: Water is everything.
Using the tagline “Life Is Better With Water,” the utility’s current campaign with Denver advertising agency Pure Brand celebrates the importance of water as a precious resource in our everyday lives and one that plays a vital role in Colorado’s unique lifestyle.
“It’s about elevating the value of water in our daily lives. Together, we all can help create a ripple effect that ensures our Colorado lifestyle continues for generations to come,” said Kathie Dudas, manager of brand and marketing at Denver Water.
Low river flows in the San Juan river have triggered drought stage 1 for the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD), according to a June 21 press release from District Manager Justin Ramsey. Ramsey’s press release contin- ues that entering the drought stage requires a vote of the PAWSD Board of Directors, which is scheduled to come during a 4 p.m. special meeting on Wednesday, [June 22, 2022].
In an interview with The SUN, Ramsey explained that drought stage determinations are based on lake levels at Hatcher Lake, river flow in the San Juan River and the state drought stage, with the variables to weighted to give Hatcher the highest priority, followed by the river flows, followed by the state drought stage. Ramsey commented that, while Hatcher is “still in good shape,” the median river flow for June 21 is 929 cubic feet per second (cfs) and the flow for that day in 2022 was 250 cfs…
Rivers and drought
Stream flow for the San Juan River on June 22 at approximately 9 a.m. was 220 cfs, according to the U.S. Geological Service (USGS) National Water Dashboard. This is down from a recent peak of 662 cfs at 7:15 p.m. on June 19 and up from last week’s reading of 137 cfs at 9 a.m. on June 15.
According to Ramsey, the rise in river levels is linked to the recent storms in the area.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) reports hat 100 percent of the county is experiencing drought. It notes May 2022 was the 19th driest May in 128 years, with 1.03 fewer inches of precipitation than normal, and with 2022 to date being the sixth driest year in the last 128 years, with 5.22 inches of precipitation less than normal. The NIDIS also places the entire county in an extreme drought, which may cause pasture conditions to worsen and large fires to develop. The NIDIS also notes that an extreme drought can cause extremely low reservoir levels, mandatory water use restrictions and increases in water temperatures.
Xerces’ conservation efforts span across many different types of landscapes, and the organization has long been interested in expanding upon work being done in urban settings. To support those goals, my position was created: Pollinator Conservation Specialist for Urban and Small Farms in Historically Underserved Communities. Through this work, we strive to bridge the gap between pollinator habitat efforts in urban and agricultural areas.
Like many others on Xerces’ pollinator team, I also work closely with the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) as a partner biologist. Based in Michigan, I will work with the greater Detroit and Flint metro areas to provide education and technical assistance on their conservation programs, including through monitoring, establishing, or expanding habitat for pollinator insects, beneficial predatory invertebrates, and soil invertebrates.
As a new member of the Detroit community, my top priority in beginning this work is to listen and learn from the people who have been on the ground working on urban ag and community food systems. It is so important to understand the existing urban ag and conservation efforts here, to work towards developing genuine connections and building trust, and have conversations on how the pollinator and biodiversity conservation work of Xerces and NRCS can support existing efforts.
In my short time here, I am quickly learning how many wonderful local organizations and urban farms have already adopted pollinator habitat into their work, and many more are excited to develop new habitats. However, much of the community here has been marginalized and historically excluded from conservation efforts. So, having open conversations on what habitats can look like in their spaces, how we may work together to incorporate pollinator habitat needs into other urban conservation efforts (such as storm water management or soil pollution remediation), and how we can work together to achieve their long-term goals will be important for integrating our work in a collaborative way.
Community gains from urban agriculture initiatives
The Detroit area is a unique model in the development of urban agriculture. Understanding the history of the city will not only better inform us on the land use, but also the impact that the changing landscape has had on the people living here. When the automotive industry established in the city, Detroit saw a large increase in population. However, after the industry moved out of the city, many of the more affluent community members left with them. Detroit became less financially stable and social tension was high amongst the community. As a result, an increasing number of properties across the area became vacant (homes, schools, businesses) and often left communities isolated.
This also created or expanded food deserts, further limiting access to nutritious foods. Community members have since been working with the city and legislature to revitalize many vacant lots as community gardens and small urban farm sites. These sites grow crops to feed the local community, but there are other driving factors of urban agriculture:
Community development and job growth
Food sovereignty, production, and nutrition
Beautification and reduction of blight
Education and skills training
Biodiversity conservation through corridors and islands of habitat
Combating heat islands
These urban farm sites act as excellent learning opportunities and demonstrations of the importance of biodiversity. Our society’s agricultural demand has developed to rely on European honey bees, but small urban agriculture areas offer a great opportunity to learn about other beneficial insects that are often overlooked. These beneficial insects include native solitary bees, who are often smaller than honey bees and are particularly efficient pollinators of our native plants. Predatory and parasitoid wasps are often underappreciated and are valuable in the garden as they can act as great natural biological control of other invertebrates that you may consider “pests”. Urban areas are also important for invertebrate diversity because they have been shown to help foster corridors and islands of habitat for wildlife.
Exciting things are also happening on a national level with the start of a new US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production. With this new office, diverse committees are being formed across the country to assist urban farmers through a variety of programs, technical support, and funding for their operations, including conservation practices. The Biden administration is also reinvesting in the People’s Garden Initiative (PGI), which recognizes the value of collaborative, community driven, local food production (e.g. urban farms, community gardens, school gardens).
Xerces is working closely with the Office of Urban Ag and the People’s Garden to support the creation of demonstration habitats with PGI urban farm partners across the U.S. At the same time, NRCS Chief Terry Cosby has committed to step up work on supporting historically marginalized communities and urban agriculture. Xerces will work closely with NRCS to support pollinator conservation in other urban ag settings, such as New York City, Philadelphia, and Minneapolis.
There are many exciting possibilities to work in support of both pollinators and urban agriculture. I look forward to working with these communities more, learning from and supporting their efforts, and sharing my passion for pollinators.
Pollinator Conservation Specialist for Urban and Small Farms in Underserved Communities and NRCS Partner Biologist
Stefanie is the Pollinator Conservation Specialist for Urban and Small Farms in Underserved Communities and a NRCS Partner Biologist in the Upper Midwest – Detroit, Michigan area. Through this work, she provides technical assistance, planning, and education on incorporating pollinator and other beneficial invertebrate habitat in small urban agricultural areas and community gardens in historically excluded communities. Her work supports projects including the Xerces Habitat Kit Program, People’s Garden Initiative, and NRCS Conservation Programs through the USDA Farm Bill.