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Las Vegas Accused of Engineering Massive Water Grab: Is This the Future of the West? [With Photo Slideshow]

Climate change is going to make life harder, water scarcer, and decisions about the future tougher.

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What future will Las Vegas choose? What stands in the way of the pipeline now are legal challenges and billions of dollars – things that have been overcome before. As Marc Reisner wrote in Cadillac Desert, in the American West “water flows uphill towards money.”

But Davis says that permission to build the pipeline doesn’t mean it will happen … yet. “It’s a safety net project,” he said. “ We won’t begin construction until and unless we need to.” If a prolonged drought does take hold it will be three years, he estimates, to have all the infrastructure up and running.

What remains to be seen is if enough public pressure can alter the region’s course and point the country in a more sustainable direction. As the West faces increased water pressures, all manner of solutions have been proposed, from energy-intensive desalination, to massive pipelines (sending Missouri River water to Colorado), to towing icebergs to the California coast.

Someday we may be desperate enough to test these schemes out (indeed, desalination is already in the works in places), but shouldn’t we exhaust the other, cheaper possibilities first? Shouldn’t we see how smart growth, reuse of graywater, conservation, and efficiency can be fully implemented -- and not just with token efforts -- before we risk sacrificing more of rural America and the people who live there?



Support for this story was provided by the Fund for Environmental Journalism.

Tara Lohan is a freelance writer and former senior editor at AlterNet. She is the editor of two books on the global water crisis, including Water Matters: Why We Need to Act Now to Save Our Most Critical Resource. Follow her on Twitter @TaraLohan or visit her website, taralohan.com.

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