Managing Water Resources; despite Notable Water Woes, Business in the Western States Is Booming Thanks to Aggressive Water Management

Article excerpt

The Western states are blessed with many good things. but an abundant water supply isn't one of them. Despite years of drought and environmental concerns that threaten existing dams and rivers, however, businesses are expanding and populations are growing. That's not to say that people in this region are heglecting conservation efforts. Indeed, the need for water conservation is embedded in the public consciousness in the desert regions of the United States. In the Pacific Northwest, businesses are becoming aware of the need to conserve water, although much of the public in this area remains skeptical. In general, however, the search is on everywhere for ways to maximize existing water resources.

The problems in the Western states aren't as varied as one would expect. Droughts often leave reservoirs partially filled and often drop lakes down to dangerous levels. What's more, the need to protect salmon and other fish requires precious water to be spilled to increase in-stream flows.

The Pacific Northwest faces these same obstacles to water conservation efforts, as well as some additional ones, For one thing. this region has an ongoing responsibility to protect salmon runs, which further reduce the amount of available water. Not to mention that, "We've had seven years of below average precipitation [in Washington]," says Renee Guillierie, spokeswoman for the state's Department of Ecology. "Demand is exceeding our supply." The area's lushness also makes it hard to convince people that there really is a water shortage.

The Effect on Business

How these water woes affect businesses is difficult to gauge and varies from state to state. At the extreme end of the spectrum, Oregon is reluctant to conserve but is starting to do so, while neighboring California considers water conservation to be a way of life. Indeed, thanks to earlier conservation efforts, businesses in California have reached the point where they simply cannot save any more than, on average, one half of 1 percent of their remaining water without stopping production. In fact, a study conducted for the California Urban Water Agencies in 1991 predicted a serious decline in productivity if the state suffers another drought and water usage must be cut.

Despite impending shortages and restrictions on the water supply in Nevada, its water concerns haven't slowed growth in the lower part of the state, says Bob Johnson, deputy director of the lower Colorado River, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. Indeed, Las Vegas is one of the fastest growing cities in the nation, although the region in which it's located expects to use all of its water allocation from the Colorado River by 2010, according to Patricia Mulroy, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

In response to this growing shortage, her region reduced its water consumption by 5 percent last year by taking such conservation measures as imposing time-of-day watering restrictions, using a block-rate structure that bases water charges on usage, and using gray water, or water that's been used before, for irrigation. The region also banned new water parks and waterthemed hotel and casinos from being built.

Despite these restrictions, several hotels and casinos have opened during the past few years. Their guests, unfortunately, often don't realize they need to conserve water. That's because Las Vegas appears to be very lush and the casinos don't usually go out of their way to remind customers about the drought.

One hotel that does set a good example is the Luxor Hotel & Casino. Prior to opening in October 1993, for instance, the hotel installed water-efficient shower heads and toilets in each of its 2,526 rooms, and now uses only "approximately 30 gallons of water per guest per day," reports Stephanie Lindelow, the hotel's publicity coordinator. And the hotel currently is installing water-efficient sprinkler heads to further reduce waste. Because it takes these extra conservation efforts, small placards urging conservation aren't seen in Luxor's guest rooms or dining areas, as they are at other hotels located farther West. …