With the ongoing record-breaking heat wave in Southern Nevada we are all facing the reality of climate change on a daily basis. To help education these issues UNLV played host to the Nevada Conservation League (NCL) discussion focusing on the reality of climate change, its impact on Southern Nevada and what can be done to combat it. It was an all-star event with a great line-up of speakers and panellists boasting a wealth of experience in the water industry and climate change research.

Former General Manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority and water guru Pat Mulroy kick started the evening talks by highlighting some of the key regulatory and policy issues related to water use, both in the USA and globally. Many of these ideas are drawn from Pat’s recently published book The Water Problem: Climate Change and Water Policy in the United States which looks to understand the impact of climate change on water shortages and quality, and how we must start tackling these severe problems.

She raised the idea that many economies that are heavily reliant on fossil fuels are not opposed to tackling climate change, nor do they believe it is a hoax. The key is in helping these economies find alternative incomes through training, awareness and education. Helping them to understand how climate change, drought, pollution and food shortages amongst numerous other things, need to be tackled in the medium to long term. Recalling her conversation with a member of an OPEC nation “it is not the final destination that matters, but the journey to get there”.

Pat expressed great concern over the impact of repealing the EPA or park services on water and tackling climate change, deeming it a “travesty if they were to go”. The narrative that has been created through some sections of society and politics poses a very dangerous threat to our ability to tackle these key issues.

In terms of regulation there is a need to show much greater flexibility. Our current regulation is very static, whereas climate change is continually changing and evolving, our regulation must mirror this to prove more efficient and effective. It must be continually reevaluated.

Following on from this we need to know “what drives people who don’t support climate change”. Pat pointed towards people insecurities and need to look out for themselves and those closest to them right now. Often people are “happy to pass on the responsibility to future generations” as they don’t believe climate change will affect them or even their children. It is key that we help people see climate change is happening now and is already impacting us daily, especially in Southern Nevada.

Rounding up her speech she pointed towards NGOs as the best placed organizations to make a real difference in combating climate change. There must be co-operation and listening to all sides, helping to alleviate people’s concerns and educate them of the problems at hand. Historically Governments are very slow to react in terms or policy changes and regulation, businesses have to protect shareholders and continue to make a profit, leaving NGOs as the perfect groups to drive a recovery in the limited timeframe.

Following Pat Mulroy’s emotive speech there was a panel discussion moderated by Andy Maggi. The panel comprised of Colby Pelligrino, Director of Water Resoursces for SNWA, Dr. Matthew Lachinet, UNLV Geoscience Professor and Researcher and Dr. Lynn Fenstermaker, DRI Deputy Director of Earth and Ecosystems.

The panel drew upon their expertise to demonstrate the fact that climate change is indeed happening and how it is already impacting Southern Nevada. While there has been little change in terms of precipitation over recent years, there has been a significant rise in temperature. This is especially clear when viewing the increase in minimum temperatures across Nevada. The hotter environment is causing an increase in evaporation and significant melting of snow pack ultimately leading to the drought we see across the South West United States. This is termed a “hot drought” due to it being driven by high temperatures rather than the lack of precipitation as described above.

The “Colorado River hot drought” has caused river flow to reduce by approximately a third, directly related to escalating temperatures caused by climate change. The panel discussed the significant implications this has on Southern Nevada, and how we can see these impacts at work. There has been an increase in wild fires which increase pollution and destroy vegetation that both absorbs pollution and reduces evaporation. Combined with the loss of snow pack due to melting these visuals of climate change in action clearly show how it is already reducing the water supplies in Southern Nevada.

While many people may point to the rapid population growth as a reason for reduced water resources, this is not entirely accurate. While we have to be mindful of population growth the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) reports that water consumption has actually reduced. This is due to improved efficiency and water saving programs they have initiated. 70% of Nevada’s water is used in agriculture so collaborative programs with local farmers are essential to reducing water use. Through programs incentivizing farmers to reduce water use the SNWA has proved very successful at improving water conservation, proving itself to be a national leading in tackling this pressing issue. They are currently working on a drought contingency plan with key stakeholders so the drought can be managed.

Over the past decade the SNWA has been the only water authority to use less than its allocated share of water. A quite amazing achievement and testament to all of the hard work, innovation and collaboration. Currently if there was to be no precipitation at all the SNWA estimates they have enough water to last for 8 years. This indicates how well they have done in conserving water but also how fragile the situation is around water and climate change.

Finally the panel were asked whether it is time to panic, and whether the problem of climate change and water can be solved. “We shouldn’t panic, we must learn to use science, communicate data and further understand the impacts”. The panel was positive that the work being done in Southern Nevada could help solve the problem on a local level but were less confident of a global resolution to a highly complex problem. “It is a serious problem but we can go a long way towards tackling it if we act now”.

There is no doubt we are already seeing the effects of climate change locally but the event highlighted the great work already being done in Southern Nevada but also cautioned that we must continue to innovate, collaborate and educate if we are to be successful.

Thank you to the Nevada Conservation League, UNLV and all of the speakers for a fantastic event.