A photo taken on March 7th, 2009 of dwindling water supply behind Hoover Dam in Nevada
About a month ago, I caved in and decided it was time to get away from Vancouver for a little sun and relaxation. My destination of choice was Las Vegas. That was mainly due to the fact that I couldn't pass up 4 nights, airfare and taxes for only $288. Clearly this recession is hitting some airlines and cities harder than others.
My family and I were supposed to fly to Vegas via Los Angeles on United Airlines. Unfortunately, the flight in LA was cancelled and we were left scrambling. In the end, rather than hoping we could get on the next scheduled flight nine hours later, we rented one of the few remaining vehicles left at the airport and began our journey across the Mojave Desert to Southern Nevada.
We left the airport at 2:30 pm and it took us two gruelling hours to simply make our way out of the Los Angeles basin. The traffic situation could be described in one word - horrendous. For as far as the eye could see, it was one massive parking lot masquerading itself as an interstate freeway.
Oh yes, there were those "carpool lanes" we were provided access to, however, more often than not they also moved at a snails pace due to the number of single occupant violators who clogged them with their SUVs. It didn't take me long into this holiday to realize why I love Vancouver so much.
As we neared what I thought were the edge of the suburbs of LA, the city just continued to stretch for miles. There seemed to be hundreds of thousands of single-family homes, all looking almost identical, built up everywhere along the interstates. Despite the recession, there were still big billboards everywhere touting the next ideal suburban community that was about to pop up from the desert floor. This is urban planning - at it's worst folks.
Everyone in my family couldn't believe what we were seeing. How do these people do it every day we asked? Why would they live out here when they obviously have such a poor quality of life? If their commute time is 2 hours or more, why would they choose to live in this suburban hell?
Admittedly, I never took the time to pull over and ask anyone these questions, but I'm pretty confident that a combination of cheap housing and easy access to massive eight lane freeways helped play a big role in it.
After a six hour journey, we finally arrived in Las Vegas. A city that by no means can claim to be in any way sustainable. How can it? It's in the middle of the desert, at least several hundred miles from any other major urban centre (or water source). If man were truly meant to settle there, surely the heavens would have provided for at least a bit of water and the occasional rainfall. I can report they haven't.
Some of you may have read media reports that Vegas and Southern California are running out of easily accessible fresh water. That's right, millions of people living in two of America's largest cities are soon going to be living without any fresh water.
I decided to pay a visit to the Hoover Dam to take a look for myself at the drought conditions the American Southwest has been facing. I can report it was a pretty scary sight. You can see from the photo I have posted above that water levels are dramatically down, and they continue to drop according to local officials.
Lake Mead (the largish body of water behind the Hoover Dam) continues to dry up. That's because no dam is big enough to capture water that simply doesn't fall from the sky any longer. No dam can supply enough water to sustain millions of people who simply take water for granted.
We've heard a lot about global warming and the impacts it will have on our planet. We've also seen a lot of symbolic announcements from political leaders about how they are going to tackle it. But nothing comes close to scaring you into a believer as watching the level of Lake Mead drop before your eyes.
Was my trip to Vegas with the family fun? You bet. Did my flight down add to my overall carbon footprint? No getting around that one. But my trip out to the Hoover Dam, and the accompanying talk I had with my son about how precious water is, will hopefully set us both on a path of environmental stewardship - for life.
I'm back home now in Vancouver. Yes, it's a bit cool. Yes, there's a bit of snow on my front lawn. However, flying back into the City on a sunny day when the North Shore Mountains have just had a dusting of snow felt like I was coming back to paradise.
In particular, it gave me a whole new appreciation for the abundance of fresh, clean drinking water we have on our door step. No more complaining about the rain from me.
Las Vegas and Los Angeles do have some redeeming qualities, but I can safely say they don't have anything on Vancouver when it comes to the things I value most. I'm glad to be home.