Changing Planet Town Hall at ASU

Air Date: 11/16/2011
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Anne Thompson
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As the world's population hits seven million, freshwater resources are even more threatened by the effects of climate change. At the third "Changing Planet" Town Hall, held at Arizona State University, NBC News Chief Environmental Correspondent Anne Thompson interviews a panel of experts on how we can develop better, more sustainable water practices. Featured are Bill Richardson, Former Governor of New Mexico, Grady Gammage, Jr., Senior Sustainability Scholar at the Morrison Institute for Public Policy, Heidi Cullen, correspondent for Climate Central and Pat Mulroy, General Manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority. This "Changing Planet" Town Hall was produced in partnership with the National Science Foundation.

Changing Planet Town Hall at ASU

ANNE THOMPSON, moderator:

Good Evening, I'm Anne Thompson. And welcome to Arizona State University for our town hall meeting, "Changing Planet." Tonight, our focus is on water. The earth's supply of fresh water is stress as our planet's population approaches 7 billion people this year. In Africa, one in three people have no regular access to clean water. Drought in east Africa is the worst in 60 years. And here in the southwestern United States, we have seen historic drought. In some parts of Texas, it's drier this year than it's been in 100 years. What is the impact of climate change on our freshwater resources? The mountain glaciers that provide us freshwater are shrinking. And scientists see that as evidence of rising global temperatures. Scientists predict climate change will affect patterns of precipitation in the United States, reducing the amount of freshwater available from rain and snow.

As the world's population grows, the challenge of how to survive with our existing water supplies grows as well. No one knows this better than our audience here at Arizona State University. At ASU, the faculty and students have identified sustainability as the issue of our age. From architecture to engineering to the first degree-granting program in the country in sustainability, this campus is overflowing with innovative solutions to looming environmental problems.

Our panelists are experts on water, sustainability, and the challenges that water scarcity poses for the 21st Century. We have with us Grady Gammage Jr., and as a senior research fellow at ASU's Morrison Institute for Public Policy, he's written articles and books about land use and the issue of growth here in Phoenix. Pat Mulroy is the general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority. She oversees the delivery of water to some two million residents in greater Las Vegas, and the 40 million people who visit there every year. Viewers of The Weather Channel will recognize climatologist Heidi Cullen. Her book, The Weather of the Future: Heat Waves, Extremely Storms and Other Scenes from a Climate Change Planet came out in paperback this summer. And finally, Bill Richardson, a two-term governor of New Mexico who helped create the Western Climate Initiative, an agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Under President Clinton, he served as Secretary of Energy and ambassador to the United Nations. Now, he's on the board of directors of the World Resources Institute. And we're first going to turn to our climatologist, Heidi Cullen. Heidi, what is the status of freshwater around the world today?

HEIDI CULLEN: I would say that freshwater around the world is definitely stressed, and the thing we know about climate change is that it's really like the great exacerbater. I think one of the things that I think is really important to keep in mind throughout the course of our discussion tonight is the fact that climate has always changed. There have been mega-droughts in the past. The problem is, when you put climate change on top of it, this, this extra warming, it just stresses everything more. And so, the droughts get worse. They intensify. And overall, it-- it becomes this-- like I said, this-- this thing that makes other aspects worse.

ANNE THOMPSON: Pat Mulroy, what kind of stress is population growth putting on your freshwater resources?

PAT MULROY: You know, if you'd have asked me that question about ten years ago, I would have said population growth is putting a tremendous stress on it. And we had so much pressure when the drought hit, that we began to get extremely aggressive about conservation. And we were able to reduce the amount of water southern Nevada was using by a third, despite the fact that we increased our population by 400,000. It's not about whether you grow, it's how you grow. And it doesn't matter whether it's Las Vegas or Nashville, Tennessee. We in this country use way too much water per capita, and we have to change.

ANNE THOMPSON: Governor Richardson, you have been around the world trying to help mediate international crises. Do you see water scarcity as a source of global crises?

GOVERNOR BILL RICHARDSON: It's a huge international issue about to explode. And what we're looking at is in some areas, a crisis situation. If you look at the crisis in Somalia today, it's a water-related crisis. You've got famine caused by a drought, and then, you've got militants preventing human beings from getting water and food. The opposite is in a country like Bangladesh, where there's too much water. So, my point is that internationally, unless we move forward on sensible climate change efforts by the international community, and the United States needs to take the lead, and it has not. So, this is a crisis waiting to happen.

GRADY GAMMAGE JR.: I think Governor Richardson makes a really important point here. Heidi talked about sort of the climate challenge of water in the world. The political challenge of water in the world is just as great. And it's a challenge all over the world, but it's even a challenge in the United States. I have this sense that we have, sort of, lost our collective will to understand that part of what we do as a country is to build things: Pipelines, the CAP Canal, Hoover Dam, those kinds of things. That used to be a fairly, broadly held consensus of what the nation was about,

ANNE THOMPSON: But how do you build that kind of consensus?

HEIDI CULLEN: I think that's the challenge, right? You guys were talking about this before, this kind of tribal aspect to water.

GRADY GAMMAGE JR.: Yeah, water is kind of the ultimate tribal commodity. You know, it defines our tribe. Those with whom we share water is "us." Those who are trying to take it away are "them."

PAT MULROY: Okay. Let me get on my soap box--

GRADY GAMMAGE JR.: She was-- she is a "them," okay? However--

PAT MULROY: Let me get on my soapbox.

GRADY GAMMAGE JR.: Let me say this. One of the things we realized in Arizona was that the big them in the southwest is California. "California" as we say. And that we needed allies to deal with that. And actually, Nevada became a pretty good ally of Arizona's in, sort of, the world of western water diplomacy.

ANNE THOMPSON: The soapbox is yours.

PAT MULROY: Okay. Can we step back for a minute? And if you look at the Colorado River Watershed, and you start up in Colorado. We take Colorado River water, we move it across the Continental Divide, through the Rocky Mountains to the front range of Colorado to the Kansas-Nebraska watershed. Move down to New Mexico, and we move it to Albuquerque into the Rio watershed. In Utah, we move it across the Utah Desert to the Wasatch Front. In Arizona, we're sitting in the middle of Arizona, and we're using Colorado River water, along a massive aqueduct. California moves it through a massive aqueduct 400 miles to the coastal cities. It goes on and on and on. Well, guess what? We're all interconnected. We're not these tribes anymore. The family got bigger. You can't push at one end of this system and not have the dominoes fall, and feel the effect in another part of the system.

HEIDI CULLEN: And if I can just put the climate lens on top of that, right? So, the family is growing. And we also made some really key decisions in the 1900s where we decided what normal was, right? And normal was 15 million-acre feet in a year. Okay, 2000 to 2006, it was actually 11 million-acre feet. And in 2002, it was six million-acre feet. So, what was normal in the 1900s is not normal now.

GRADY GAMMAGE JR.: So, this is…

ANNE THOMPSON: And we've had more population growth. All right. Well, our panel has had its chance to speak. And now, we'd like to hear from our audience members, please.

HAILEY PAUL (M.S., ASU School of Sustainability ’10): As you guys already kind of mentioned, the 20th Century was the era of big dams, big infrastructure projects. Considering climate change and population growth, what is the next wave in developing our water resources? Will we continue to see these large infrastructure projects? Will we see more increased efficiency and conservation regulations like Pat's, you know, instituted-- recycled water, desalinization? What do you guys see as, like, the next wave?

PAT MULROY: You're going to see all of the above see all of the above because there's no more…

HEIDI CULLEN: We have to.

PAT MULROY:…there's no silver bullet solution anymore. It's a mosaic, made up of different pieces. And it's going to very much depend on where you are. Singapore, for example, is 100%, their water supply is leaning now toward reuse and ocean desal. So, it has to be everything, starting with a much lesser demand by our customers.

GRADY GAMMAGE JR.: There's a political challenge to that though, is it's hard to get the public to understand all those things and all the things that have to be part of the solution and which ones they can participate in, and which ones are most appropriate for their area. That's a complex message. It's a harder message than "Let's build an interstate highway system." And so, politically, I think there's a real challenge there. Pat's right, but it's a challenge.

ANNE THOMPSON: We're actually going to ask all of you to participate in this next question, so get your clickers out. We know that water covers 70% of our planet, but what percentage of that water do you think is actually freshwater? Is it 30%, 10%, 5%, or 2.5%? Let's see what you all said. The correct answer, anybody want to guess up here?


ANNE THOMPSON: Only 2.5 percent of the earth's water is freshwater. And two-thirds of that freshwater is locked up in icecaps and glaciers. When we get back, we're going to take a look at the conflicts over water that are spreading at home and abroad.


ANNE THOMPSON, moderator:

Welcome back to Changing Planet, adapting to our water future. In the west, some seven states -- Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and California -- all depend on one river, the Colorado, for most of their water. And many of these states are among the fastest growing in the country. A few years ago, my colleague, Lee Cowan filed this report from Las Vegas.

LEE COWAN [FROM CLIP]: "How the west was won," may be a cowboy cliché, after all, parts of Nevada look like the west is still winning. The desert is a formidable foe. Nevada gets less than eight inches of rain every year. And yet, desert denial is rampant. Las Vegas seems a water wonderland. Tropical falls, gondola-ridden canals, even fountains dancing to music.

PAT MULROY [FROM CLIP]: I spend my life defending these fountains.

LEE COWAN [FROM CLIP]: Pat Mulroy is Nevada's water czar, a no-nonsense executive who is as tough as they come. She helped outlaw front lawns, and pushed for heavy fines on unnecessary watering. She's even convinced golf courses to tear up parts of thirsty fairways, and put in desert landscaping instead. And those fountains, well, that's just treated wastewater.

Unidentified Man [FROM CLIP]: All of the water that you see in these hotels, every bit of it, is less than ten percent of the total water usage in Clark County.

LEE COWAN [FROM CLIP]: But all that saving hasn't been enough. A seven-year drought has left Lake Mead, which supplies Vegas with 90% of its water, drier than ever. Unless it can find water elsewhere, a booming Sin City may go bust.

PAT MULROY [FROM CLIP]: There's no way the west can conserve its way out of this. It just can't happen.

LEE COWAN [FROM CLIP]: That urban thirst has cattle rancher Dean Baker over a barrel. From the air, he showed us his 12,000 acres that without water would be desert.

DEAN BAKER [FROM CLIP]: What they need this water for is more growth. Is that really necessary?

LEE COWAN [FROM CLIP]: But some say his water is Vegas' only other option. The ranch sits above the Great Basin: 200,000 square miles of underground aquifers that store groundwater. Vegas wants to suck 65 billion gallons a year out of those basins and bring it south in a 300-mile long pipeline. It sparked an old west showdown between crops and cattle, glitz and glamour.

ANNE THOMPSON: You know, Mark Twain once wrote, that, “whiskey is for drinkin', but water is worth fightin' over,” and that certainly seems to be the situation you've got in Nevada, Pat. The State Engineer is supposed to rule by the end of next January on your request to bring all that water down.


ANNE THOMPSON: I mean, do you have a, you know, rural versus city fight going on in Nevada?

PAT MULROY: No, I mean, Nevada has the toughest groundwater law in the country. And what we have filed for is unappropriated, unused, not Dean Baker's water, unused ground water. Now, why would we do that? Ninety percent of our water comes from the Colorado River. You can’t conserve 90% of your water supply. It is impossible. So there has to be a pressure release valve.


GOVERNOR BILL RICHARDSON: I want tell you, by the way, you never mentioned that I ran for president in the introduction. It was very short-lived, I know.

ANNE THOMPSON: And water sunk it.

GOVERNOR BILL RICHARDSON: And water didn't help me because I said, you know, “who has water in this country?” The Great Lake states, right? Michigan, Wisconsin. So I said, why don't we look at some relationship, some compacts where once in a while, when we have these water shortages, our brother states can help us? And those states were very unhappy. And I think that the potential for sharing is just politically not there.

GRADY GAMMAGE JR.: I think there is a perception on a lot of people's parts, some of it is, some of it is, sort of, East Coast journalists, frankly


GRADY GAMMAGE JR.: And some of it is just the general public, that moving water a long distance is a bad thing. And moving it great distances is not necessarily a bad thing. I mean, water is one of the essential commodities for life that you actually can move. And that's the only reason people live here. And I would argue to you, Anne, that the desert is a good place to live. The desert's a great place to grow crops. It is, perhaps, the birthplace—

ANNE THOMPSON: But it’s a desert!

GRADY GAMMAGE JR.:..but it's the birthplace of civilization in the first instance. That's where we learned to get along and create governments, was to build water systems to make the desert operate…

PAT MULROY: But it's not just desert that needs them. New York City brings water in from the Catskills.

GRADY GAMMAGE JR.: Yeah, brings water from far away.

PAT MULROY: You wouldn't be living in New York City if they didn't. And when you think of climate change in a larger sense, isn't one of the sustainability concepts that we build more urban, more dense, more, we build up instead of out? Well, you can't do that without bringing water in. I mean, there's some tradeoffs here.

ANNE THOMPSON: We're gonna take a question from the audience. Please.

KRISTA BRELSFORD: We've heard a lot about conflict between urban and rural and ag and development and environment. And all of this is figuring out how to set a fixed amount of water to go to a whole bunch of different people who want it. The Colorado River Compact has a system for allocating water among different users. But is it going to keep working as population grows and the supply goes down, what are, how's the compact and prior appropriation going to stand up?

GOVERNOR BILL RICHARDSON: Well, look. This is why I want to see, I'm not saying a ‘water czar,’ but if I ask you who's making federal policy on water, do you want to answer that?

KRISTA BRELSFORD: Theoretically, the Bureau of Reclamation.

GOVERNOR BILL RICHARDSON: Well, okay, but, the Bureau of Reclamation. You got the Water Corps of Engineers. It's at Interior. It's like Assistant Secretary level. And what I'm saying is, maybe not a Water Czar at the cabinet level, but some kind of central entity that deals with water resources, that deals with compacts, that deals with international relationships, and deals with water resources as it relates to climate adaptation, as it relates to future preservation of water, reuse, recycling, the environmental side. That's all I'm saying. I'm not, although, I think this young lady could be a great czar, I do think, we don't have any federal entity that basically not shouldn't necessarily take the lead, I'm a state's right governor, but that says, "this is our policy." Find out what our policy is on the Colorado River. I bet you can't do it.

ANNE THOMPSON: But the federal government can't agree on a policy on climate change, how in the world is it ever going to agree on a policy on water?


PAT MULROY: Think about the Colorado River Compact. When you cut through all the law, and I know you're an attorney. Can you just forget that for a second? When you look at the compact…


PAT MULROY: …at the end of the day, it allows seven states to do whatever seven states can agree to do, but no one state can roll its neighbors no matter how big they are. That's the beauty of the compact. It's evolving. It will continue to evolve. And it's going to continue to grow because the minute it stops changing, it becomes rigid and it'll break. It has to remain flexible.

ANNE THOMPSON: When we come back, we'll look at the global water issue and the role of science and technology.


ANNE THOMPSON, moderator:

Welcome back to Changing Planet. We have been focused on the American West, but as you'll see in this video, water issues are driving much bigger conflicts globally.

MARTIN FLETCHER, reporting (file):

Climate change. You see it best from the air. Hundreds of miles of bare earth, dry rivers. On the ground, you feel it, burning heat and getting hotter. And you smell the result: hundreds of thousands of cows and goats dead and dying from hunger and thirst. After nine years of drought in northern Kenya, they're desperate. Villagers dig six feet below dry riverbeds trying to find fresh water. Instead, a stagnant pool. So thirsty, they drink anyway. Climate change makes a dangerous situation worse.

JEREMIAH LEMORINI (file): So, they just came in and-- they started shooting.

MARTIN FLETCHER (file): Rival tribesmen wanted to steal Jeremiah Lemorini's land. It has more grass and a little spring water. They didn't use their spears. For the first time, they attacked with automatic rifles. Thirty-three dead, 21 villagers and 12 of their attackers. This is pretty horrific stuff, seeing the dead animals, many of them killed by bullets, and the others by drought. But it's just a part of the life in this village in these conditions.

ANNE THOMPSON: Governor Richardson, they say that the wars of the 21st century will be fought over water, do you agree with that?

GOVERNOR BILL RICHARDSON: Yeah, I think they will be. I think you can see potentially some in the Middle East and the subcontinent, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh. But if we're talkin' about human beings dying because of water resources, because of famine, it's Africa. We just saw this. And so, when we're talking about climate change. When we're talking about crises, Africa is a centerpiece. And my hope is that many of you, if you go into international work, you concentrate on Kenya, on Tanzania, on the Congo, and those parts of the world that really need science and help and volunteers. You know, we read about this every day in Somalia. I mean, thousands of kids, babies, die every day 'cause they don't have water. They don't have food. And the international community, you know, is sort of sitting around. I'm not blaming anybody, but yeah, I am, I am. I'm saying that we've got to alter our consciousness to recognize the truly devastated areas and, right, we're looking at it right here, it's Africa.

HEIDI CULLEN: And then, there's also just this notion of time scale that, you know, these kinds of problems that we're talking about, they're like the oil tanker problems where they're really tough to turn on a dime. And it's not necessarily the sexiest story out there, but that's the challenge for us, is to really communicate that the decisions that we make, they play out over these incredibly long time scales. And they're critical. We really need to be able to see that timeframe.

ANNE THOMPSON: So, in the second half of this program, we're going to talk about solutions. So, during this break, I hope you will all think about what you think those solutions should be. And when we come back, we're going to ask you and our panelists to tell us your best ideas.


ANNE THOMPSON, moderator:

Welcome back to Changing Planet. We spent the first half of this town hall talking about freshwater problems. Now, let's talk about the solutions. You will see one solution in this video about the challenges people are facing here in Phoenix.

ANNE THOMPSON, reporting (file): One hundred three degrees in Phoenix, and the pool is the only place to be for Lisa and Tony Kenati's daughter and friends. In this desert oasis of four million people, one of every three homes has a pool. Despite the fact Phoenix's water is not its own. It's imported from the Colorado River basin and state water shed. Now, with rising temperatures and shrinking snow packs, plus a population that's predicted to double in 30 years, conservation is part of the conversation.

PATRICIA GOBER (Decision Center For A Desert City, file): It's a tough sell in Phoenix because when we start talking about outdoor water, we start talking about lifestyle.

ANNE THOMPSON (file): Water runs America's lifestyle. The food you eat each day takes 500 gallons of water to produce. At home, we each use about 150 gallons a day. Some for toilets, washing machines and showers, but most water is used outside, in Phoenix, up to 70%. Here, water is cheap, and there are no laws preventing this in the heat of a desert afternoon. Under the relentless sun, Phoenix's pools must be refilled because of evaporation or drained because of chemical imbalance. On average, that means 16,000 gallons out and 16,000 gallons in. Ken Sheer and David Morgan say they have a better way. Is this essentially dialysis for your pool?

Unidentified Man (file): Well, it's definitely one way of looking at it as-- a more simpler way.

ANNE THOMPSON (file): Chemicals separate calcium, the biggest problem, and send it to the bottom. The white stuff is vacuumed out and filtered. And soft, clean water goes back in. Not a drop wasted.

Unidentified Man: In the last five months, we have conserved three million gallons of water.

ANNE THOMPSON (file): While here in Phoenix, the focus is on the future, it might surprise you to know that across the country, despite a growing population and economy, Americans are using water more efficiency today than we have in the past. Dr. Peter Glick is a water expert at the Pacific Institute.

DR. PETER GLICK (file): We're doing things that produce more income, but require less water to do it.

ANNE THOMPSON (file): But that may not be enough for Phoenix.

Unidentified Woman (file): The longer we wait, the more difficult it will be for our kids.

ANNE THOMPSON (file): To survive a climate that's not fit for man nor beast without a pool. Anne Thompson, NBC News, Phoenix.

ANNE THOMPSON: Grady, your institute, the Morrison Institute for Public Policy just came out with that new report you mentioned, Watering the Sun Corridor. And in it, you address the real fear that this area could run out of water in the next 25 years. You say that's not going to happen, but we have to make some difficult choices. What are those choices?

GRADY GAMMAGE JR.: Yeah, I think we're going to have to decide if it's more important to us to keep growing, to get more people to live here, which has been the way we define success, is how many people can we get to move here? We're going to have to decide if that's more important to us, then we're going to have to start making sacrifices that going to begin to become difficult. We have to decide, should everybody still have a private swimming pool? Should we begin to modify the densities at which we live, which tend to be, you know, single-family detached homes where everybody's got a backyard and everybody's got a front yard? Do we need to begin to modify all of those things, or are those important enough to preserve as our lifestyle that we should begin to discourage population growth. That's a tough balance. We have not begun to face up to that. And we're going to need to do that.

ANNE THOMPSON: If-- Governor Richardson, if one of the best ways to discourage consumption of anything is to raise the price. Do we need to make water more expensive?

GOVERNOR BILL RICHARDSON: I go back to this impact fee on developers that are using more water use, to find ways that, you know, there be a cost. Yes, we're going to grow as a nation, but let's grow in a sustainable way.

GRADY GAMMAGE JR.: I want to talk about price, 'cause I want to answer that question.


GRADY GAMMAGE JR.: I say yes, water should be more expensive.

PAT MULROY: I'm going to disagree with you.

GRADY GAMMAGE JR.: Water has been a virtually free commodity. We don't really charge for water. We charge for the cost of delivering water. We have to price water more intelligently. And it's extremely complex. You've got to make a block of water available to everyone cheaply that you need to live. People will not suffer very high water if it's what they use to take showers and to drink. We're going to have to keep that is a basic human right I think everyone realizes. But depending on where you are in the United States and how important water is to this lifestyle question, you then have to face how do you price that water, the water that is above the minimum necessary for decent human existence? Do you price it cheaply so that people can modify the environment and water their-- lawns outside their house? Or do you make it increasingly more expensive? What about different usage? Should industrial water be cheaper than-- than-- because we want to use it as an economic development tool? It's a complicated equation, but it is unrealistically cheap in most of the United States.

PAT MULROY: Here's the problem with your theory. If everyone earned the same amount of money, you're right. I've got customers, my largest single residential customer was the Sultan of Brunei, used 17 million gallons of water for his home every year. What would you like me to charge him that's going to make a bit of difference to him?

GRADY GAMMAGE JR.: Well, I-- you know--

PAT MULROY: The door knobs on his front door cost $500,000.

GRADY GAMMAGE JR.: Yeah, you're-- you're not going to discourage the Sultan--

PAT MULROY: It's going to-- well, no, but-- it's the dramatic example-- it's an extreme example. So, only the poor are going to have to conserve?


PAT MULROY: Those that can afford to pay whatever--

ANNE THOMPSON: No, but why don't you charge the Sultan more money? So…

PAT MULROY: How can I do that? He's a single-family residence.

ANNE THOMPSON: But if you do it based on how much you use..

PAT MULROY: Oh, I do, but he doesn't care.


GRADY GAMMAGE JR.: But-- but most people will care. I mean, there aren't that many Sultans of Brunei. We have none of them in Phoenix. You know, we don't have people like that here. People…

PAT MULROY: Oh, come on.

GRADY GAMMAGE JR.: Water is elastic. Water demand is elastic. Oh, we have rich people, but not the Sultan of Brunei. But water use is elastic. We used to believe there was no elasticity to it. There is.

PAT MULROY: It's very elastic.

ANNE THOMPSON: Let's go to-- we have an audience member here, and I believe you're from the scientific community, am I right?

JOHN SABO: Yes, my name is John Sabo. I'm a associate professor in the School of Life Sciences, and I'm very interested in this topic. So, I appreciate the opportunity to ask the panel a question. And first, a little bit of background. Agriculture, which we haven't talked about a lot during this session, uses 80% of the water in the West, and about half of this water goes to the crops by means of flood irrigation, which is the least efficient means, but it's cheap for the farmers. But as cities grow, the water supply will dwindle, and not just for cities and farms. And so, it would seem prudent to implement some sort of farm water efficiency measures. However, if the farmers have to foot the bill for that, the cost may be passed back to the consumer by means of higher produce prices. So, my question is how do we generate the capital to implement farm efficiency measures without limiting our access to highly nutritious and cheap produce?

GRADY GAMMAGE JR.: I think it's very complicated, but my instinct is that we need to send more price signals about farming than we do. That we have made the cost of farming and growing food an incredibly complicated government-subsidized system. We need to try to sell renewable water supplies to farmers, but ground water is so heavily subsidized, the electricity they can use to pump it, that it doesn't make any sense. So, you have to come up with mechanisms to partner. And one of the things we did in Arizona is the cities in Arizona actually participate in programs to make surface water more readily available to farmers.

GOVERNOR BILL RICHARDSON: Well, I'm going yield to you. Okay, you're a scientist, right? What is the answer that you would like to see yourself? You probably thought it through, what is it?

JOHN SABO: Well, and some of it goes back to what you were talking about in the previous segment, which is water pricing. But I think not at the farm, I think it's at the city and the tap. Let me give you an example. My water bill is probably one-fourth or one-third of my grocery bill. Do I want to pay an increased water bill or increased grocery bill? I'd rather pay more for water than groceries. And that's the choice, the lifestyle choice that a lot of people in cities are going to have to make, I think.

ANNE THOMPSON: When we come back, we're going to talk about who is going to lead in the drive for sustainability.


Changing Planet ASU Town Hall - Segment 5

ANNE THOMPSON, moderator:

Welcome back to Changing Planet. We have another question from the audience for our panel. Please.

COLIN TETREAULT: I would appreciate all of your thoughts on what role industry and business has in facilitating a new water paradigm. Is it things like public policy? Is it going to be public-private partnerships? Investment in technology and development? How do you see this playing out?

GRADY GAMMAGE JR.: We've got a couple pretty good examples here in Arizona. There are industries that have developed much more efficient ways of watering golf courses, for example, where every single sprinkler head is monitored and controlled by a computer with a sensor of the ground that is related to that sprinkler head. So, it adjusts constantly how much water is delivered to the golf course. They tout a very significant water saving from this. Whether it's proved out or not, I don't know. Those kinds of things, I think, are niches where industry is discovering that there are entrepreneurial opportunities to participate in the water arena.

I have some clients who are speculating in the water business-- now, who are-- looking for water investments. That's a much trickier equation to me, but again, there may be an opportunity there. Now, you may think that's bad. If you think all water should be free to everyone, you know, maybe we shouldn't be speculating in it. On the other hand, market functions do serve a purpose and-- and do respond to needs. So, I think there's a bunch of opportunities.

ANNE THOMPSON: Governor, who should lead in this issue?

GOVERNOR BILL RICHARDSON: Well, the innovator should be industry. You guys should be the entity that provides new ideas, innovation. What I think you need to do is you need to work with universities. I think what you also need to do is work on climate change with energy companies. You can't just do water without renewable energy. And if you promote sustainability as an industry in the private sector, I think you can win out.

HEIDI CULLEN: And the thing is, though, that industry needs market signals to be able to respond to it, and that requires federal leadership, state leadership so that there are those market signals in place and reduce policy uncertainty that is, kind of, hindering this innovation that we desperately need.

PAT MULROY: But there's one other role for industry. Industry has a leadership role. You can complement the message that's coming from the scientific community, from the elected leadership community. Depoliticize it, make it a real issue. You have an enormous voice in that.

ANNE THOMPSON: Let's go to our audience. So, if you would grab your clickers again, we have a question for you. And that is, to rank in order of priority what you would do to reduce your water consumption. Would you, 1) take shorter showers, 2) plant native plants, what they call Xeriscaping out here instead of grass lawns, 3) wash your car less often, or 4) flush your toilet less often? Yeah. What do you,Grady, what are you willing to do?

GRADY GAMMAGE JR.: Well, I already have largely Xeriscaping. So,I would rank that high, and it is the most effective of what's on there, in Arizona, the most effective thing you can do in terms of conservation.

ANNE THOMPSON: Because they're still using, that's the biggest,


ANNE THOMPSON:…use of water?

GRADY GAMMAGE JR.: --although, it's interesting, you know, the statistic that was in your little clip said that 70% of the water in Phoenix is used outside the home. That is not a recent statistic. In the report that just came out, we think it's closer to 50% today, that there's been that much saving and efficiency outside the home that it's now about 50/50.

ANNE THOMPSON: That's great. We have a question from the audience. Yes?

LAUREN WITHICOMB KEELER: The water management community has borne the brunt of this economic recession in a big way. We've seen a lot of budget cuts to agencies and cities responsible for making sure that the water comes out of your tap when you turn it on. I am wondering what kind of strategies you all have to cope with this lack of money and also the brain drain that's gone on in water.

GRADY GAMMAGE JR.: As you know, the Arizona Department of Water Resources has been savaged by budget cuts. It is a shadow of its former self, as is a lot of Arizona state government at this point. But one of the solutions there was to ask the cities to step up and help keep A.D.W.R. functioning, and take some of those functions, and so on.

GOVERNOR BILL RICHARDSON: Well, look what happened in the debt limit negotiations with the Congress. What you have is a ten-year, dramatic decrease in what is called discretionary spending. So, from the federal side, you're going to see less and less. What does that mean? Local decisions, local policy making. This is why I'm urging citizens to form watershed groups, more citizen participation. You know, levies are going have to be discussed when it comes to water management. Maybe there's a way we could settle a lot of these water adjudication cases that are out there, especially in the West. I think when it comes to growth issues here in this, you know, great state, you've got enormous growth issues, you've got to figure out how to deal with them. Again: local, you. The Feds, the Congress, you know, they took a walk for ten years.

ANNE THOMPSON: Wait, we've got one more question, I want to get this in. Go ahead, please.

WILL GREEN: My question's a policy, so probably directed towards Governor Richardson. My question is given the total, embarrassing failure of Congress to pass a climate bill, Governor Richardson, what is the policy path forward? What is our chance right now to get a clean energy economy?

PAT MULROY: You're getting all the hard questions.

GOVERNOR BILL RICHARDSON: Well, look I'm optimistic. And everyone's negative "Oh, nothing's ever going to," I'm optimistic about this country. I think there's got to be a wakeup call that-- not just on water, but, I think, eventually, hopefully, and this is a non-political event, in a second term of the current president, there can be global climate change legislation. I think, eventually, in a second term, there will be renewable energy standards, climate change legislation. I do think so.

ANNE THOMPSON: Let's take a look at what our audience said-- they would do to reduce their water consumption. And it seems that, changing the way they water their landscape is the winner, with 49% of the vote, plant native plants instead of grass and lawns. Flushing your toilet less often seems to be the loser in that. When we come back, what lessons we can learn from history about water and sustainability.


ANNE THOMPSON, moderator:

Welcome back to Changing Planet. When it comes to water management, if we don't study history, we may be doomed to repeat its mistakes. Let's take a poll of our audience and see how much they really know about local history. Get your clickers out. When you're flying over Phoenix, you'll notice that canals are dug into the ground feeding freshwater into the city. When do you think these canals were first built? Was it 200 years ago, 500 years ago, 1,000 years ago, or 1,500 years ago? The answer is number four, 1,500 years ago. The Hohokam tribe, an advanced civilization, was the first to build canals in Arizona, around 500 or 600 A.D. And it's a bit ironic that the name Hohokam really means "gone people." Grady, what happened to them?

GRADY GAMMAGE JR.: Well, we haven't known for a long time. And there's been, sort of, an assumption that there was some catastrophic event and they all left. But the most recent evidence suggests that it wasn't a catastrophic event. It was, you know, not with a bang but a whimper, The water supply was too, ephemeral, too variable. It would come and go. There'd be a flood, and there'd be years and years of drought. And the more that challenge progressed, the fewer of them could live here.

ANNE THOMPSON: We have a question.

VERNON MASAYESVA: I am a member of the Hopi Tribe. We lived here in Arizona, Black Mesa, for over a thousand years. We are dry farmers. We don't need irrigation of water. We have no lakes, running water on our land. It's desert. We're desert farmers. But guess what? I'm here. We survived. And how did we survive? We learned the mystery of water. We still have this misconception that we can manage water. We do not do that. Water manages us. And we all have to learn to live within the limits of water—freshwater, which is finite

ANNE THOMPSON: Well, let me ask the panel here, are we trying to do the impossible here?

PAT MULROY: I think that we're going to have to learn to live differently. I don't think you're going to be able to put nine and a half to13 billion people on this planet and not affect each and every living person on it. It's going to be a different place. And we're going to have to adapt.

ANNE THOMPSON: And Heidi, how much is that world going to change?

HEIDI CULLEN: I think it's going to change a lot. And I think, you know, we really have to come to grips with the fact that what we're talking about is how to live on this planet in a way that-- that keeps us all healthy and happy, but-- but maybe compromises on-- on just this-- this incessant desire for more things, right?

THOMPSON: I'd like to thank our audience today and our partners, the National Science Foundation, and Discover Magazine. You can watch this entire program on and For NBC News, I'm Anne Thompson, good night.

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