Excerpt: 'Guide to Sustainable Living' by Ed Begley Jr.

Chapter 6: Water

There's an old saying: whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting. And I think it's true. We've certainly had a lot of water wars over the years—throughout civilization, and most recently in arid states including Arizona, Nevada, and California. And we'll continue to have conflict over water as more and more development occurs and the available resources become more scarce.

Water scarcity might prove to be very challenging for places like Southern California, where nearly all of our water comes from elsewhere. In Southern California, we get our water from the Owens Valley, from the California Aqueduct, and from the Colorado River.

But there's been a lot of recent development occurring in places like Las Vegas, Phoenix, Tucson, and Scottsdale, and everybody wants their share of the water. Traditionally, they've been able to get it, but more and more development has spread those resources all the more thin. Visit Lake Shasta in California. You need only drive by it to see how low the water is. Lake Mead and Lake Powell are drawn down very, very low, too.

There are many theories from climatologists about drought cycles. What if the theories are correct about the Sierra snowpack? How much snow will there be in the future? Ski resorts are beginning to feel the pinch on this one already. What if there's less moisture coming in the form of snow and more coming in the form of rain? As weather patterns change, this could be a big problem for places like my home state of California.

But these problems are not restricted to California. Georgia has experienced a big drought. It's hit Florida and the Carolinas, too. There have been droughts in many parts of the country that traditionally haven't had a drought cycle in a very long time.

So we need to be more conscious of our water use, in both the amount of water that we waste as consumers and the amount of water that is wasted in old irrigation practices in agriculture—the biggest areas for saving water. If we can encourage our farmers to practice more water conservation measures, rather than flooding crops the way they've done with canals, they can target that water on the crops in a more efficient manner. We can save a great deal of water with these small measures.

Delivery is a big issue. The beauty of the Owens Valley project in Los Angeles that William Mulholland designed years ago was that it all ran downhill from the Owens Valley through aqueducts and through holes dug in the mountains. The water was gravity fed. Indeed not only did the designers use no electricity to get it from the Owens Valley, they generated some electricity at the bottom of the pipeline to give Los Angeles some of its first electrical power.

That's not the case anymore. It's impossible to get water from the California Aqueduct or from the Colorado River through gravity. The terrain makes it impossible. So what they do is pump the water around using lots of electricity. They reclaim a bit of it on the way downhill, but only a fraction of it.

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