Birding constantly segues into conservation, it’s inevitable. Here on the LCRV, it’s difficult to stand on the shores of Lake Havasu and imagine the river that used to run there, flanked by a forest of willow and cottonwood. Those forests are gone, the river has been altered forever, and both people and wildlife have had to adapt to these changes and more to come. Restoration projects such as the ‘Ahakhav Preserve are a major step forward, providing benefits for people as well as habitat for wildlife. A steady water supply is important to the wildlife in so many ways, not only for irrigating these restoration areas, but providing habitat for threatened species with marshes and forest stands, flooding to propagate native vegetation, and hosting huge concentrations of migrant shorebirds, waterfowl, and others at the river’s delta.
I followed a link this evening to this article on water shortages on the Colorado River. Nothing in the article is a big surprise; essentially, drought means less water in the river, while more people are drawing out more water. Reading the article got me to thinking about Phoenix, a (relatively) lush, verdant city in the desert, which draws most of its water from Lake Havasu. Fountains, lush plantings, abundant golf courses, and a lawn for nearly every home is the norm in Phoenix (more and more of these areas are using reclaimed water, which is wonderful). On the other hand, when I was scouting for a home in Lake Havasu City, I noticed quickly that there are very few lawns here. There are a few turfed city parks and rows of trees here and there, but for the most part, this city could be a brochure for xeriscaping.
I decided to finally find out why it is that LHC is so unusually not green for a desert city. I assumed it must be a city ordinance banning turf in residential areas. Reading the city’s Water Conservation Plan, it turns out I was right, at least in part. City landscape requirements forbid turf in commercial, multi-family, and industrial uses. That means that Wal Mart and my apartment complex aren’t allowed to have lawns. However, single-family homes are excluded. Homeowners are allowed to have lawns here, but the city provides rebates and education programs, and even landscape planting guides (here and here) to encourage xeriscaping. In the end, homeowners choose to skip the turf.
I believe that many of the desert cities drawing water from the Colorado could take a page out of LHC’s book. With water restrictions a very real possibility in the near future, we should all stop and think about steps we could take to use less of the water we share.