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National News Roundup – June 20, 2022

Monday, June 20, 2022

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Water Shortages Worsening in Western US

Many cities are curbing development in response to extreme drought.

Development in America’s West and Southwest has been on the rise, but it may soon be grinding to a halt because the region is running out of water. Growth is regarded as a vital organ of most communities. Yet some cities in the West are shutting down all new development because they cannot provide water services to new neighborhoods.

In April, the California Coastal Commission urged San Luis Obispo County to stop all new development requiring water use in the communities of Los Osos and Cambria. The Los Osos groundwater basin is being depleted at an unsustainable rate, according to published reports, while Cambria relies on a limited water supply from creeks in danger of drying up and destroying aquatic wildlife.

Meanwhile, a water district serving mountain communities in Arizona announced in March that it had issued a moratorium on new connections due to a falling water table. In Utah, the city of St. George has expressed concern about its ability to grow if a pipeline to pump water from Lake Powell is not approved by the state. “We cannot afford to build beyond what our water supply will allow,” City Manager Adam Lenhard told the local newspaper.

Nevada now has a new law banning “useless grass.” Restrictions are aimed at preserving the water supply. Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak recently signed a new law that mandates the removal of purely decorative grass from around the Las Vegas Valley by the end of 2026. The state hopes to save billions of gallons of water.

There is a likelihood of insufficient water supply at more than 200 watersheds across the country, according to research conducted by the US Forest Service. Without intervention, future shortages are expected to increase substantially, according to the Forest Service report.

The Colorado River, the source of water for millions, has shrunk to half its capacity since 2000. It feeds into Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the U.S. and the source of 90 percent of the drinking water for Las Vegas. The lake is at its lowest level since it was filled in 1937.

Nevada is not the only state at risk: neighboring Arizona, Utah, and California, which also rely on water from the Colorado River, are experiencing equivalent levels of drought.

Developers have a saying that water flows uphill to money. It may soon travel across states, too. The severe water shortage has some looking at the abundant water of the Great Lakes. Traverse City author Dave Dempsey, who has worked in environmental policy for 40 years, is concerned that there has been a lack of public action to fix shortcomings in the Great Lakes Compact, an agreement among the eight Great Lakes states about how to manage water use. “There’s a loophole (in the Great Lakes Compact) large enough that you could drive a water truck through,” states Dempsey.

The Great Lakes account for 20 percent of the world’s surface freshwater and 90 percent of North America’s supply.

(Sources: Stateline, World Economic Forum, Colorado Public Radio, Michigan Capital News Service)

Small Towns Embracing Bikeshare Concept

Programs spread from big city concept to Aspen, CO, and other locales.

Over half of car trips in the United States are less than three miles, according to some reports. This could be an argument in favor of so-called bikeshare programs in which communities provide bicycles and e-bikes to the public for a small rental fee – or even for free. A three-mile car trip would translate to a 20-minute ride for most bike riders.

Converting these short car trips to carbon-neutral bike rides could reduce air pollution while helping the United States reach its goal to become carbon-neutral by the year 2050. New federal funds for bikeshare programs are available to communities in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

In recent years, bikeshare has mostly been a big-city concept. But smaller towns are getting in on the benefits. Aspen, Colorado, is believed to be the first small town in the United States to try a bikeshare program in 2013. Aspen’s program began with 10 docking stations and 100 bikes. In the first year, the bikeshare program had over 9,000 rides. In the years since, the system has grown to include 51 docking stations, 232 manual bikes, and 52 e-bikes in Aspen and adjacent communities. The city of Aspen had over 37,000 bikeshare trips in 2021.

Other small towns embracing the bikeshare concept include Montevallo, Alabama, Athens, Ohio, Pocahontas, Iowa, and Meadville, Pennsylvania.

For communities considering bikeshare, experts say local officials need to consider the structure of the program, including how it will operate; the location of bikeshare stations in relation to high traffic destinations, such as schools, parks, hospitals, and government offices; and the types of bikes to include in the program. Although e-bikes are more expensive, they are more likely to be ridden because they require less effort, especially in areas with hills or hot weather. They are also more accessible to those with mobility issues.

Bikeshare programs do not have to be owned by a municipality. They can be privately-owned or owned in partnership with a private operating organization or even a non-profit.

(Source: NLC)

Denver 911 Tests Alternative Response Teams

In pilot program, mental health professionals were dispatched for certain calls.

New research suggests that dispatching mental health professionals instead of police officers in response to some non-emergency 911 calls could have significant benefits.

The study of a pilot 911 response program in Denver, Colorado, in which mental health specialists responded to calls involving trespassing and other nonviolent events, found a 34 percent drop in reported crimes during the six-month trial. According to the study, the direct costs of the alternative 911 approach were four times lower than police-only responses.

“We provide strong, credible evidence that providing mental health support in targeted, nonviolent emergencies can result in a huge reduction in less serious crimes without increasing violent crimes,” said Thomas Dee, a professor in the Stanford University Graduate School of Education and a senior fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR).

Several other cities—including New York, San Francisco, Austin, Texas, San Mateo, California, and Washington, D.C.—are experimenting with new ways of responding to certain types of mental health emergencies through the use of mental health professionals with little or no law enforcement involvement.

Dee says the study provides “credibly causal” evidence that it’s possible to reinvent 911 responses in ways that are radical, yet sensible, and cost-effective.

Please go here to view or download the study.

(Source: Futurity-Stanford University)

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