Th e pipeline Las Vegas plans to build from Spring Valley, Ne- vada, 300 miles north, to the city will not be delivering oil or natural gas, but a resource even more pre- cious: water. Spearheaded by the Southern Nevada Water Authority and approved by the Bureau of Land Management, the pipeline is the lat- est attempt to locate viable sources of drinking water for the growing and increasingly parched desert city. But Kevin Davidson, the planning and economic development director for the Hualapai Tribe just south of Las Vegas, sees uneasy echoes of the past, such as the early 1900s, when Los Angeles drained Owens Lake dry.
A WATER WISE WEST PHOENIX’S NEW BABBITT CENTER WILL INTEGRATE WATER AND LAND USE PLANNING. Photo Gallery
If Las Vegas, which histori- cally has drawn its water from the Colorado River, diverts water from the basins to the north, the city is going to “wind up with ‘L.A. Part Two’ a hundred years after the fact,” Davidson says. Water scarcity is one of the most pressing issues facing the American West—one without clear answers. But the newly established Babbitt Center for Land and Water Policy in Phoenix hopes to address the gaps in planning. Established by the Cam- bridge, Massachusetts-based Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, the research center aims to make explicit the con- nection between land use and water availability and help policy makers, at both local and state levels, make more informed decisions.
“How we use land is the major factor that de- termines what our demand for water is going to be,” says Jim Holway, an urban planner and the director of the Babbitt Center. Right now, demand is outstripping supply. Experts predict that by 2060 the Colorado River Basin, which includes parts of Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Mexico, could be running at a deficit of 3.2 million acre-feet given soaring population growth and an expected decrease in flow. Narrowing that deficit—by developing more and better maps, models, and other tools—is part of the Babbitt Center’s mission. For in- stance, the center could use local land cover data to model the groundwater impacts of several different development scenarios in a particular community. Or, it might develop a basin-wide map of water rules and regulations.
It’s still early for the Babbitt Center, which was launched in May 2017. But local landscape ar- chitects stand to benefit from the institutional weight the organization is bringing to the issue, as well as the practical resources it can provide. “For landscape architects, the Babbitt Center has the potential to really answer that question—where can we best nurture nature in our cities? And as we grow, how can we better design that city to steward resources for people and nature?” says Jeremy Stapleton, who is trained as a landscape architect and serves as the director of climate resilience for the Sonoran Institute, a nonprofit (also con- nected to the Lincoln Institute) that helps com- munities in the West with land use planning.
Stapleton says the creation of the center places a “hyperfocus” on integrating water and land use policy in the Colorado River Basin and hopefully will allow the region to “get the basin dialed in and get it balanced.” That expertise—the best practices, the most suc- cessful strategies—could be exported to other parts of the country. “Every community in the West is facing this problem of water scarcity, or will in the future,” he says. “It’s amazing how little data is out there sometimes. A lot of collaboration is needed.”
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