Some of the last homes currently being built in Oakley, Utah. The town has cut off new development because it doesn’t have enough water to go around. Credit... Lindsay D'Addato for The New York Times
OAKLEY, Utah — Across the western United States, a summer of record-breaking drought, heat waves and megafires exacerbated by climate change is forcing millions of people to confront an inescapable string of disasters that challenge the future of growth.
Groundwater and streams vital to both farmers and cities are drying up. Fires devour houses being built deeper into wild regions and forests. Extreme heat makes working outdoors more dangerous and life without air-conditioning potentially deadly. While summer monsoon rains have brought some recent relief to the Southwest, 99.9 percent of Utah is locked in severe drought conditions and reservoirs are less than half full.
Yet cheap housing is even scarcer than water in much of Utah, whose population swelled by 18 percent from 2010 to 2020, making it the fastest-growing state in country. Cities across the West worry that cutting off development to conserve water will only worsen an affordability crisis that stretches from Colorado to California.