A new online conservation campaign ranks Clark County as the nation's sixth largest "water hog," but local water officials are already turning their noses up at the findings.
According to the "Don't Be a Drip" campaign from Levi Strauss & Co. and the environmental group Center for Biological Diversity, only five other U.S. counties consume more water per capita than Clark does: Maricopa County, Ariz., which includes Phoenix; Riverside County, Calif., home of Palm Springs; Salt Lake County, Utah; Sacramento County, Calif.; and Palm Beach County, Fla.
"Amid the flashing casino lights and flashier entertainment, it's easy to forget that Las Vegas sits in the middle of the desert, and that mirage of excess is built on a quickly dwindling water supply," says the campaign's write-up for Clark County. "Front lawns are now illegal in Vegas, but 70 percent of Lake Mead water, which provides the vast majority of the county's water supply, still goes to landscaping."
Southern Nevada Water Authority officials point out that the rankings are based on federal estimates of domestic water use from 2010, and do not account for the recycling of almost all water used indoors in the Las Vegas Valley.
Bronson Mack, spokesman for the community's wholesale water supplier, said the valley has reduced its per capita water use by 10 percent in the past five years.
"Before this website even went live it was outdated," he said.
Overall, local per capita water use has declined 30 percent since 2002, even while the population increased by roughly 500,000, Mack said.
"Those results speak volumes about our community's commitment to conservation," he said. "We are very pleased with the success of our community's conservation efforts, and this website does not portray an accurate picture of our community's water use."
Unlike other communities on the list, nearly all of the water that goes down a toilet or drain in the Las Vegas Valley winds up getting treated and returned to Lake Mead to be used again.
Rounding out "Don't Be a Drip's" top 10 "water hogs" are: San Bernardino County, Calif.; Nassau County, NY; King County, Wash., which includes all of Seattle; and Orange County, Calif.
The over-arching goal of the campaign, which lives at dontbeadrip.org, is to spur conservation and draw attention to the impact of human water consumption on endangered species.
"It's easy to forget that every time you turn on the tap, that water is coming from rivers, lakes and streams that wildlife depend on," said Stephanie Feldstein, population and sustainability director at the Tucson, Ariz.-based Center for Biological Diversity.
"For many of us, running the shower or leaving the water on when washing the dishes has become an unconscious habit," said Michael Kobori, Levi Strauss & Co.'s vice president of sustainability. "We want consumers to realize that every wasted drop of water down the drain negatively impacts countless ecosystems."
Clark County's ranking is based on a daily per capita use figure of almost 129 gallons. Mack said the current figure is more like 118 gallons per capita per day.
That would move the county one spot down the "water hogs" list.