Water conservation event to draw international audience

If you think Las Vegas has some serious water problems, consider the Kingdom of Jordan.

A recent World Bank report ranked the Middle Eastern country as one of the world's 10 most water-deprived nations. The ordinary Jordanian has access to less than 2 percent of the freshwater available to the ordinary U.S. citizen, and by some accounts Jordan's growing population could outstrip its current water supply by 2010.

A member of the Jordanian royal family will be in Las Vegas this week to speak about his nation's plans to manage and expand its scarce water resources as part of an international conference on conservation hosted by the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

The three-day WaterSmart Innovations Conference begins Wednesday at the South Point hotel-casino.

Prince Feisal Ibn Al-Hussein, brother of Jordan's King Abdullah II, is scheduled to open the conference with a speech at 9 a.m.

Thursday's keynote address will be delivered by Jonathan Overpeck, a University of Arizona professor and researcher who served as lead author on a United Nations report on climate change that won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.

Overpeck will be joined at the keynote luncheon by Benjamin Grumbles, assistant administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Water, who will hand out awards for some of the top efforts and innovations in water efficiency during the past year.

The EPA teamed with the water authority to stage the conference on urban water conservation. Already, organizers are predicting it will be the largest and most comprehensive conference and exposition of its kind in the world.

More than 1,100 people have registered to attend from 42 states, the District of Columbia and 17 countries. The water authority sold out of booth space for the exposition two months ago.

Authority spokesman J.C. Davis said Las Vegas is a natural fit for such a conference, despite what the authority's critics -- and the desert landscape itself -- might say.

"Let's face it: In the last few years, Las Vegas has gone from being the poster child for water waste to the poster child for water conservation," he said. "When your population goes up 400,000 and your (annual) water use goes down by 15 billion gallons, people pay attention."

Authority conservation manager Doug Bennett, who is organizing the conference, said the event represents an opportunity to "deliver the conservation message" to a range of professionals, from water managers to landscapers, architects and builders.

To put it another way, Davis said, "We didn't want it to be one water buffalo talking to other water buffaloes."

The authority might even learn a few new water-saving tricks from the conference, Davis said. "We know we don't have the market cornered on good ideas."

The schedule includes roughly 160 discussion sessions and tours of the Springs Preserve, Las Vegas Wash, Hoover Dam, the River Mountains water treatment plant, and Red Rock Conservation Area and the nearby Red Rock Resort.

The conference also will feature a special screening of a new documentary called "The American Southwest: Are We Running Dry?" at 6 p.m. Thursday.

The film, narrated by actress Jane Seymour, is a 70-minute examination of prolonged drought in the Southwest, and it includes interviews with water authority General Manager Pat Mulroy and elected officials from across the region.

The same documentary will air at 9 p.m. today and again at 10 p.m. Thursday on local Public Broadcasting Service station KLVX Channel 10.

Davis said the conference is designed to be "cost neutral" for the water authority, with registration fees, exhibit sales and sponsorship money covering all of the agency's costs. The way it looks now, he said, there might be some money left over for next year's conference, should the authority decide to hold one.

As chairman of Jordan's Royal Water Committee, Prince Feisal is expected to speak about his country's efforts to develop a comprehensive national water strategy. The Arab nation is less than half the size of Nevada and is home to almost 6.2 million people, a population that is expected to double by 2029.

Specific projects now being considered include a $600 million pipeline to tap groundwater in southern Jordan and an audacious, multi-billion-dollar scheme to produce drinking water from the Dead Sea using a desalination plant and a 200-mile canal to the Red Sea.

"Jordan has huge water problems," Davis said.

Contact reporter Henry Brean at hbrean @reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0350.