‘Changing Planet’ panel discusses water scarcity

WATER TALK: NBC News' Anne Thompson moderates a discussion Thursday night at the Discovery Town Hall event at the Galvin Playhouse between (from left to right) Sustainability Scholar, Grady Gammage Junior, General Manager of Nevada Water Authority, Patricia Mulroy, Director of Communications for Climate Central, Dr. Heidi M. Cullen, and former Governor of New Mexico Bill Richardson as they examine how shifting climate patterns are stressing our freshwater resources and how we can develop better, more sustainable water practices. (Photo by Rosie Gochnour)

With only 2.5 percent of the Earth’s water supply consisting of fresh water, the availability of fresh water is becoming a prominent concern among scientists and policymakers.

A four-person panel that included former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson met on the Tempe campus Thursday to address what changes in climate, population and technology mean for water use and conservation.

The panel discussion, “Changing Planet,” was the third meeting in a series of town halls produced by NBC Learn, the news outlet’s educational arm.

The panel began the discussion by focusing on how climate affects water availability across the globe.

“It gets worse as we move forward in time,” said panelist Heidi Cullen, correspondent for nonprofit news and research organization Climate Central.

Places that experience drought will get drier and wet places will see more rainfall, Cullen said.

“We are just going to creep up on a drier and drier climate,” Cullen said, referring to states in the Southwest such as Arizona, New Mexico and California.

Grady Gammage Jr., Senior Sustainability Scholar at the ASU Global Institute of Sustainability, was also on the panel.

“The main points of stress on Arizona’s water supply are the challenges on the Colorado River, the prolonged draught, climate change … (and) how we have to share water in the Southwest,” Gammage said.

The younger generation also needs to be more involved in policy making, he said. The way in which water is priced will also have to change. Gammage proposed a tiered system similar to income taxes.

“Water should be more expensive,” Gammage said. “We have to price water more intelligently.”

The panel also discussed the ways in which the growing population is increasing water usages, especially in the Southwest.

“It’s not about whether you grow,” Cullen said. “It’s about how you grow.”

In Arizona, changes will have to be made in what is considered “successful growth,” Gammage said. He proposed questions such as how ubiquitous pools and lawns should be in a desert environment.

The solutions the panel discussed included more cooperation among states and individuals.

“There’s a new reality out there,” said Patricia Mulroy, general manager of the Las Vegas Valley Water District and Southern Nevada Water Authority. “All those old notions that we are fiercely independent as communities (are) gone. We are fiercely interdependent.”

The states in the Colorado River Basin have made progress toward working together, Mulroy said.

“We’ve stopped competing,” she said. “We realize there is great strength in our unity.”

Richardson said this unity needs to spread to the rest of the United States.

He discussed the way water could be allocated from the Great Lakes region and around the Mississippi River to drought-ridden places.

“The potential for sharing is just not there,” Richardson said.


Reach the reporter at ryan.mccullough@asu.edu