The piece was published originally in the Reno Gazette Journal.
Living in the desert, water is always on our minds – how to stay hydrated, how to manage it and how to conserve it. But when we talk about our water supply, we often overlook the biggest threat: climate change.
It doesn’t help that we have a president who flatly denies its existence. When President Trump took office over a year ago, one of the first things he did was erase all mentions of climate change from the websites of government agencies, including the White House, Environmental Protection Agency and the Bureau of Land Management. Since then, this administration has continued with its mass erasure of climate change concerns, undoing years of progress in the process.
Here in Nevada, where climate change is happening right in front of us, the stakes have never been higher. Temperatures have been rising in our state for a century, but the effects have become most visible in the last 50 years. The impact on water availability is one of the most significant and most foreboding problems: In the last two decades, rising temperatures have aggravated drought conditions. As a result, the water level of Lake Mead – which represents 70 percent of Nevada’s water supply and 90 percent of Southern Nevada’s supply – has dropped to 40 percent of its capacity, according to a report released by the EPA in 2016.
Rising temperatures also have decreased the accumulation of snow in the winter, causing this vital source of water to rapidly diminish. Rainfall is down as well: According to U.S. Climate Data, in March 2018 we got an average of 0.26 inches of rain compared to 0.43 inches we normally expect. In February, we received just 0.01 inches, compared to the 0.75 inches we should have. And last year, we fared just as poorly, with 0.01 inches in March and 0.56 inches in February.
The implications are clear. A diminishing water supply combined with a growing population mean that not only is there less water for drinking and landscaping, there is also less available for agriculture and ranching. What’s more, drier conditions make our communities more vulnerable to pests and forest fires.
The March for Science this past weekend reminded us that with the 2018 elections fast approaching, Nevadans can’t afford to stay on the sidelines. We need to elect leaders who not only accept the reality of climate change, but will also do what’s necessary to protect our resources.
Unfortunately, not all our current representatives meet that basic criteria. Sen. Dean Heller, who is up for reelection this November, has consistently voted against environmental interests. He voted to confirm climate change denier Scott Pruitt as administrator of the EPA, which is no surprise, given that Heller himself told Politico in 2015 that climate change is still “up for debate.”
And it gets worse: in February 2017, Heller voted to block the Stream Protection Rulethat requires coal mining operations to protect surface and groundwater supplies from toxic mining waste. In 2016, he voted to block funding for the Clean Water Rule, endangering the drinking water of over 100 million Americans., and voted to strip funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
This past weekend people all over the country participated in the March for Science to call on candidates and elected officials to take a firm stance on climate change. Nevadans need to show up at the polls and vote for candidates who will commit to reducing our state’s carbon emissions, investing in clean energy, and conserving water in Lake Mead.
Our desert is beautiful. Now we must stand up to protect it.