The author leads his readers to believe the decline in water storage in the largest reservoir on the Colorado River, Lake Mead, is directly attributable to Las Vegas’ water use. The article states that Lake Mead is, “being siphoned off by large tunnel “straws” that redirect the water 25 miles to the city of Las Vegas. These straws, however, are sucking the lake dry.” Unfortunately, this statement is just not accurate, as Las Vegas is just one of many cities that depend on Lake Mead for water.
In fact, ALL of the southwestern cities drawing upon the Colorado (Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix, Tucson, Las Vegas) combined account for about 20 percent of all Colorado River use. For almost 100 years, the Las Vegas region’s share of the river has constituted only two percent of the total appropriations; however, due to our ongoing water conservation efforts, our community is only consumptively using three-quarters that tiny appropriation. In fact, despite welcoming 485,000 new residents since 2002, Las Vegas used 32 billion gallons less last year than it did when drought was declared in 2002.
More than a decade ago, Southern Nevada agencies adopted comprehensive development standards that dramatically decreased water demands of new buildings. At a time when a U.S. EPA study found many cities are building homes that demand more water than those that preceded them, our new homes built since 2003 use about 40 percent less than those that preceded them. By adopting these standards, we’re one of few Western cities that reversed the trend of ever-thirstier development, thus allowing us to focus on retrofitting older homes and businesses. Conversion of existing ornamental lawns accounts for more than 9 billion gallons of our annual water savings. Our Water Smart Home program has produced more than 10,000 new homes that use about half as much water as pre-2003 housing stock, making it the largest and most successful such program in the nation. We are growing, but we have more than a decade’s experience in putting new people into water-efficient development.
Southern Nevada also recycles nearly 100 percent of all water used indoors. Accounting for this extraordinary water reuse, Las Vegas actually only consumes 124 gallons per capita per day. This non-consumptive reuse extends our water resources and minimizes our community’s water footprint on the Colorado River.
As North America’s most arid major city, we are fully prepared for the potential that the Colorado River Basin may become drier. For more than two decades, we’ve worked closely with our neighbors on the river to craft policy and infrastructure to proactively deal with such conditions.
Las Vegas’ citizens and visitors can be confident that through efficiency and foresight, this desert city will continue to evolve and thrive, even in the face of increasing water challenges.
Public Information Manager
Southern Nevada Water Authority