This 2010 paper by Peter Gleick and Meena Palaniappan planted the seed, and as I worked on my book I found examples everywhere – geographies and economic communities that are using less water even as they were growing. I blogged about it, as one does, one thing led to another, and when I finished the book manuscript in December I embarked on a deep dive into “decoupling” of the West’s water:
Contrary to the narratives of apocalyptic doom or a need for ever-growing supply as a result of unsustainable water use, these communities have demonstrated an adaptive capacity that has allowed more people and economic activity using less water. This creates opportunity – to grow more food, to move water to cities, and to begin to reclaim some of the surplus for the environment.
My water wonkness is all about narratives, and the “we’re gonna run out of water” narrative seems one of the strongest and most damaging to our ability to solve our problems. A recognition of the opportunities provided by decoupling seems to me to be central to our ability to solve the problem of creating a sustainable and resilient future here in the Southwest.
A big thanks to Ted Nordhaus and colleagues at The Breakthrough Institute for supporting the work, and for some really insightful contributions as I did it.
Decoupling is very real and will help to avoid the “doom and gloom” scenarios, but anthropogenic warming and climate will negatively affect our water supplies and natural ecosystems which are essential for sustainability in the West. Water reuse, toilet to tap, certainly can also help Actually New Mexico’s population is not increasing.