The Stream, May 18, 2022: How Some Cities in the American West Have Ample Water Supplies Amid Drought

The San Vicente Dam in San Diego, California. Photo © J. Carl Ganter/Circle of Blue


  • A commission in California voted against granting a permit for a proposed desalination plant along the state’s coastline.
  • A report suggests London could be waterless by 2050.
  • The most recent deluge in Queensland, Australia has left hundreds of people displaced and cut off access to more than 700 roads.
  • Officials in one Michigan city could reinstate water shutoffs after pushback from residents last year.

Cities in the American Southwest are thriving despite looming drought.

“Just like you don’t want to put all of your eggs in one basket in your investment portfolio, you shouldn’t do the same with your water portfolio.”

– Kelley Gage, director of water resources for the San Diego County Water Authority.

Many southwestern cities are implementing water conservation policies that experts say are providing ample supplies in an otherwise drought-stricken region of the United States. Cities like San Diego, Phoenix, Las Vegas, and Albuquerque have implemented adaptation strategies such as low-flow plumbing fixtures and water recycling to manage water use and save residents from future supply cuts.

  • In context: In Texas, Austin, El Paso, and San Antonio have pursued achieving long-term water security with uncommon focus, Circle of Blue reported in 2020. The practices, technology, and investment the three cities are making to supply and manage water are designed principally to fend off the worst effects of deep droughts.

In Recent Water News

Five Fixes for Michigan’s Drinking Water Woes – The Great Lakes News Collaborative asked state and national experts how Michigan could break the cycle of underfunding and poor decision-making that has left water systems across Michigan in sorry shape.

What’s Up With Water—May 17, 2022 – This week’s episode of What’s Up With Water covers water-related financial risks and a mandate to conserve water in California. Plus, Circle of Blue reports on Michigan’s opportunity for renewal.

California Board Vetoes Ocean-Front Desalination Plant Proposal

The California Coastal Commission unanimously voted to deny a permit for Poseidon Water to build a desalination plant in Huntington Beach. The proposal received support from some California politicians, including Gov. Gavin Newson, but faced fierce criticism from environmental groups who said releasing salty discharge from the plant could kill marine organisms. The proposed plant would have produced 50 million gallons of water a day in a state continuing to grapple with severe drought.

This Week’s Top Water Stories, Told In Numbers


A new report from Christian Aid found that the city of London may run out of water in the next 25 years. The report found that major cities around the globe will face increased risk from drought by 2050 unless immediate action is taken. In London, drought – paired with a fast-growing population – will put serious stress on the city’s aging water systems.


Hundreds were evacuated and more than 700 roads were cut off or impacted due to the most recent flood in Queensland, Australia. The Guardian reported late last week that More than 170 mm (6.7 inches) fell over the province in just 24 hours. This is the sixth deadly flood event in Queensland since December, which scientists have attributed to a La Niña weather pattern.

  • Australia Elections: Recent disasters like floods and wildfires are putting climate-conscious political candidates in the spotlight as Australia gears up for Election Day on Saturday.

On the Radar

Officials in Saginaw, Michigan indicated that the city may lift a moratorium on water utility shutoffs. The moratorium, that initially took place in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, was lifted in June of 2021. After intense pushback from residents and community activists, the moratorium was reinstated two weeks later. Now, officials say that despite financial assistance programs, the city’s collective water debt has grown from $1 million to $1.6 million in the last year.

  • Why It Matters: Earlier this month, Circle of Blue reported that rising water rates in Michigan are disproportionately impacting the state’s poorest residents. Water conservation for residents like Summer, a 58-year-old Oak Park resident is a constant negotiation. Unlike for most people, it’s also a survival strategy.

More Water News

Women in Mexico are banding together to build harvesting and filtration tanks to help communities collect safe drinking water.

There is mounting evidence suggesting Russia is not only committing crimes against humanity in Ukraine, but also illegal environmental destruction.

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