“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And unfortunately, most Utah residents have always seen thick, green grass as drop-dead gorgeous. It is that, but the allure is also hideously unnatural.”

Utahans live in a desert. Green lawns are a huge waste of scarce water. Editorial by the Salt Lake Tribune.

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About The Author

Ralph Maughan

Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan's Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of "Hiking Idaho." He also wrote "Beyond the Tetons" and "Backpacking Wyoming's Teton and Washakie Wilderness." He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

11 Responses to Utahans live in a desert. Green lawns are a huge waste of scarce water.

  1. SmokyMtMan says:

    Give climate change another decade or two, and we will see how green Utah’s lawns are. People in the interior west are going to have very serious adjustments to make soon. Water is going to become very scarce and increasingly rare, to the point it is going to be very shocking for most, I think, as the majority of people simply don’t seem to grasp the magnitude of the West’s coming water problems.

    It’s why I moved back east recently. I couldn’t put down long-term roots in Idaho after living in Boise for 6 months and seeing what the future is going to look like there.

    I am in my early 30’s, and I think it would be folly to invest in a home and land in the west at this point. The west has a brutal and harsh future ahead, and I won’t subject myself to it. To me, the West is a grand vacation, not a residence.



    Given current climate models, the eastern ans southern U.S. will see more rain than it historically did, while the west will dry up severely beyond what it already has.

    My choice was simple and easy to make.

    Back to the lush and diverse mountains of eastern Tennessee…….

  2. TimothyB says:

    While it’s nice that people have such faith in climate models and the way they are interpreted by humans, I would caution anyone from making life based decisions on these models.

    After 20 years working in the “weather field”…not climate field, I have faith that the long term climo models showing the West undergoing a sustained drought will be way off the mark. Sure you can show me that weather models are different than climo models but they are based on some of the same data and many other factors we really don’t understand. Hell, if we cannot figure out tornadoes fully do you really think we can program a computer to tell us what the general climate will be in 6 weeks? 6 months? 6 years? To think a computer model will come close to being right at the 6 decade mark is wishful thinking at best and kind of silly to me.

    But then again, a broken clock is right twice a day.

    On the other hand, if someone hits a general forecast at the six year mark with any kind of accuracy, they wouldn’t be working in the climate career field for very long. Some financial institution would hire that person to “do his magic” forecasting economic condition at the 6 year mark. And we certain have a better understanding of what makes the world financial markets tick much better than we understand the atmosphere.

  3. SmokyMtMan says:


    I understand your point. However, I didn’t mean to imply that I relied upon the Weather Channel to decide for me where to establish a home. I lived in one of the wettest parts of the U.S. for a long time. I know very well the low accuracy rates of weather prediction on a day-to-day basis, to say nothing of next year.

    However, science tells us that over the last century or two, the West has been wetter than it typically has been in the past. The drying trends of the last decade or two may very well have nothing to do with climate change. It may be that a wetter period is simply coming to an end.

    You must also combine the West’s typical aridity with the number of people that are sharing this resource now, and how many are projected to be dividing up the west’s water supplies in the near future. Population growth in Las Vegas, California, Colorado, Arizona, and other places are surging. We are going to have tens of millions of retirees and immigrants in the next decade or so moving to these areas.

    Where will their water come from? Why is Lake Powell and Mead at record lows now? Scientists are saying that Lake Mead has a 50% chance of being completely dry by 2021. They expect that lake will never be full again…..it would take decades of above-average rainfall to fill it again. Do you know how many people rely upon these two lakes for fresh water? Do you know what fills these lakes up?

    I could go on and on and on with the evidence and science that is informing me that water supplies in the West’s future appears to fall far short of what will be necessary to maintain their economy and standards of living.

    Again, if science is correct, and the West is historically drier than it has been, the dry period the west is entering now is not a “drought”. This new drier period is the “normal” weather, and over the last several centuries we have benefited from an abnormally wet period.

    But don’t take my word for it. Take the scientists that are publishing reports and papers saying this.

    When it comes to water, I refuse to roll the dice. I love my 55-80 inches of rainfall a year in the smokies.

  4. TimothyB says:

    Smoky…good on ya. You have to do what is in your heart and what you see happening around you. I am doing the same thing when it comes to ” the science”. To me, when we talk about the science of global climate change, there is more heart and art than true science. I publish my thoughts here as just another view point created during my career in the “sciences”. Not that I expect to change or sway anyone in their view of what the atmosphere will be like during any given decade.

  5. countryside says:

    Its not that we all love having green lush lawns, but in many communities we are required by the city or county to have it that way. many cities have there ideas of what the community should look like and do enforce there laws made by the city planners, ect. If this is going to change many cities will have to change there city plans

  6. Alan says:

    The forthcoming end of the oil age will do the re-write for us, if citizens don’t do it themselves.

  7. SmokyMtMan says:


    I respect your opinion. It is quite difficult (if not nearly impossible) to determine what the future really holds for the U.S. in terms of rainfall distribution and temperature. Climate change may very well be a phenomenon that will run its course regardless of our actions. It may turn out to be a very temporary trend.

    All I can do is make the best decisions for myself with the data I feel is most accurate and likely to to be indicative of what the future will hold. I agree that weather prediction is extremely unpredictable due to the sheer number and complexity of the variables involved.

    But I am not using predictions when I weigh my life decisions. Not at all, never. What I am using is what I see with my own eyes. That is why I used concrete examples like Lake Mead and Powell, for instance. You don’t need to read climate change reports. Go take a look at those lake levels yourself. Go take a look at the flow of the Colorado, then compute the demands of the current 30 million people that rely upon it and those lakes for water. Look at the aquifer levels today in the west. Why are they so low compared to historical levels? Why are they dropping?

    Then look at population growth for the Southwest. For the intermountain Western states. For Las Vegas and Southern California. Then do some basic math.

    Even if the west doesn’t dry any further due to climate change, the West’s water is simply going to become more and more scarce as population continuously increases and agricultural use increases. It’s happening right now, and has been happening for a long time. We are just reaching a critical mass due to the inevitable combination of too many people using too much water for too many reasons for too long.

  8. SmokyMtMan and Timothy,

    This showed on ScienceDaily today.

    Drier, Warmer Springs In US Southwest Stem From Human-caused Changes In Winds

  9. TimothyB says:

    Ralph…thanks for the link.

    The part I have real trouble with is:
    “Computer models of future climate and atmospheric conditions suggest the storm track will continue to move north and that precipitation will continue to decrease in the southwestern U.S.”

    If you’d like to read about forecast models I suggest you read your local forecast discussion from the NWS for a one week period. The discussions are rather dry but most forecast offices discuss how each model is handling the atmosphere in the short term. Once you see how forecast models differ from one day to the next and from one model to another you’ll get an idea of the difficulty a climate model would have handling general conditions out 6 months, 6 years or 6 decades.

    Try the Boise NWS Forecast discussion found at:

  10. SmokyMtMan says:


    Ignore climate change for a moment. Think of a finite resource (water) and then add a constantly expanding human population.

    Regardless of climate change, the West is suffering water shortages due to population increases alone. If climate change becomes irrefutable fact, it will, of course, make the water shortages much more severe on a shorter time scale.

    Another great article: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/21/magazine/21water-t.html?_r=1&adxnnl=1&oref=slogin&adxnnlx=1219629692-72yDX6pKGUhuI/Ok33HZpQ

    “We have an exploding human population, and we have a shrinking clean-water supply. Those are on colliding paths.”

    “California’s Department of Finance recently predicted that there will be 60 million Californians by midcentury, up from 36 million today.”

    “In Colorado, we’re sitting at a little under five million people now, on our way to eight million people,” Binney said.

    The west is walking a fine line between being able to maintain the status quo and a regional disaster. If climate change models are correct, and the West is warming, that fine line is going to disapear very quickly.

  11. TimothyB says:

    Smoky: I don’t have a problem with the science of too many people and not enuf water. That is pretty much cut and dry if the the estimates are correct. But then again, if the estimates are correct, having no drinking water or “lawn water” in this case will take care of the problem all by itself. No water mean people have to move.

    With that said, please don’t buy all the land in TN. Us westernerns will need a place to live in the coming years.


August 2008


‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey