If you’ve seen the dramatic “bathtub ring” around Lake Mead, the visual evidence of a megadrought impacting the Colorado River Basin is clear. With the beleaguered river providing 90 percent of Southern Nevada’s water supply, it might seem counterintuitive that our community is one of the most water secure in the Southwest.
The drought and its impacts are no surprise. The Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) has planned for the current conditions since 2002, two years after the drought began and the point at which climate experts and hydrologists predicted conditions could worsen and persist for decades.
Just as the southeastern and midwestern United States is subject to flooding and California is prone to earthquakes, water scarcity is Southern Nevada’s natural disaster. And, just as other communities do, we must prepare for the worst. The Water Authority has done just that, accumulating eight years of water reserves and investing nearly $1.5 billion to safeguard our access to water for critical needs even under the worst of circumstances.
Businesses also have a critical role in protecting our community and their own investments. Over the past two-plus decades, Southern Nevada has transformed from the poster child for profligate water use to one of the country’s most water-efficient metropolitan areas. Thanks to an ever-strengthening conservation ethic and common-sense water-use restrictions, the Las Vegas Valley used 26 percent less Colorado River water last year than in 2002, despite the addition of more than 750,000 new residents during that span. However, given deteriorating conditions in Lake Mead, our journey is far from over.
This year, our already-small allocation of Colorado River water was reduced by about 7 billion gallons. Next January, it will be cut even further. In an emergency situation — which is possible given projected conditions — we could face even harsher curtailments. For many communities, such reductions would be devastating; for us, they don’t have to be. Southern Nevada’s one advantage over all other Colorado River users is our ability to capture and recover nearly all of our indoor water. In other words, the water we use inside our homes, businesses and hotels can all be recycled, making us the water equivalent of a perpetual motion machine and allowing us to survive — even thrive — in extreme conditions.
But only water used indoors can be recaptured in this way. Water used for landscape irrigation, evaporative cooling and pools/water features cannot be recovered. This is why the SNWA is working with its member agencies to implement changes in utility service rules and municipal codes that reduce these “consumptive” water uses. By changing water-use policies around areas like non-functional turf, cooling systems, golf courses and swimming pools, we can collaborate to protect our water supply.
Change is always hard — but if there’s one thing that Nevadans do well, it’s adapt and prevail. We all want to preserve this community’s quality of life and economic vitality. The measures being contemplated are not unreasonable, but they are absolutely necessary to save water for our truly critical needs.
Farther from home, the SNWA also is investing in projects that will help expand Southern Nevada’s water resources. One of these projects is a partnership with the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD), which is developing a regional water recycling system much like our own that captures and recycles indoor water rather than dumping it in the ocean. The SNWA will fund part of this project in exchange for some of California’s Colorado River water stored in Lake Mead.
By stepping up our conservation efforts and working to develop new resources, Southern Nevada can look forward to a bright future and a vibrant economy, which benefits all of us.
I am often asked if we are going to run out of water. The honest answer is, “We don’t have to.” Our ability to thrive in the decades to come will be determined entirely by our willingness to adapt to changing conditions and manage our water supply responsibly. Businesses can visit snwa.com to learn about financial incentives for water-saving projects.
Members of the editorial and news staff of the Las Vegas Review-Journal were not involved in the creation of this content.