The valley's water system entered a new age Friday, as the first drops from a critical new straw at Lake Mead entered the community's distribution system.
The Southern Nevada Water Authority's new, $817 million intake went on line and began delivering water to the Alfred Merritt Smith Water Treatment Plant near Lake Mead about 1 p.m.
A few hours later, that water started flowing into the valley for the first time. Water authority spokesman Bronson Mack said it would begin reaching customers' taps late Friday afternoon or this morning, depending on demand.
The first deliveries from the new intake mark the culmination of a seven-year effort to excavate a 20-foot-tall, 3-mile-long tunnel beneath the bed of Lake Mead and draw water from one of the deepest spots in the drought-stricken reservoir.
The so-called intake is designed to keep water flowing to the valley should the reservoir drop another 30 feet or so, forcing the shutdown of one of the two older straws used to supply 90 percent of the community's drinking water.
With the addition of a $650 million pumping station sometime in 2020, the third intake should be able to pull from the very bottom of the reservoir, protecting the community's water supply even if the lake shrinks almost 200 feet from where it is now and leaves the water authority's other two straws sucking air.