Buried in President Obama’s 12-page State of the Union Address were these few lines: “But we have to act with more urgency – because a changing climate is already harming Western communities struggling with drought, and coastal cities dealing with floods. That’s why I directed my administration to work with states, utilities and others to set new standards on the amount of carbon pollution our power plants are allowed to dump into the air.”
This bit likely went unnoticed by most Americans, who are more concerned (justifiably) about the minimum wage, unemployment insurance and other issues the president raised that directly affect their livelihoods. But the POTUS’ nod to the water shortage in cities like Las Vegas caps a wave of attention to the crisis, a few drops of which have hit me already this year.
First, there was Michael Wines’ Jan. 5 piece in the New York Times, which spelled out – in for-dummies style – the growing gap between supply and demand of Colorado River water, with particular attention to the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s role in bridging that gap. Then, this week, came High Country News editor Jonathan Thompson’s more nuanced look at how real live Southern Nevadans experience (or ignore, as the case may be) our vexed relationship with H2O. And now, the State of the Union mention.
At the risk of sounding like an alarmist … oh, wait! I don’t have to sound the alarm; I’ll just quote Kenneth G. Ladd, interim director of the Nevada Center of Excellence on hydrological sciences, who told me over coffee last week, “Water is the next oil.”
If Ladd turns out to be right, you can bet our drought will get more than a half-paragraph in future presidents’ speeches. And, like the more pressing problems that Obama delegated to Congress last night, its solution will require much more than an executive order. New standards on carbon pollution may help brake the runaway train of climate change, but they won’t add a drop of the liquid gold we’ve already lost from Lake Mead.