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Volunteers rehabilitate ‘lifeblood’ water source of Las Vegas

It may have been hard for 4-year-old Bruce to sit still, but his mother Mona Miller was hard at work.

Toddler care was only one of her responsibilities Saturday morning. As she kneeled in the dirt in front of the Las Vegas Wash, she placed a native plant in the ground that would one day help filter countless gallons of runoff on its way to Lake Mead.

Saturday’s volunteering was a lesson in responsibility for her son, said Miller, a third-generation Las Vegan who bartends downtown at the Mob Museum.

“This is the lifeblood of the whole city,” Miller said. “It’s the only reason Las Vegas exists.”

Miller was one of more than 200 residents of the valley who spent their morning at the wash, sowing the seeds for even more filtration as water travels to Lake Mead. This marked the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s 40th so-called “Green-Up,” which has been hosted for about 20 years.

Making the Mojave wild again

In the valley, the wash functions more like an urban river that sends upward of 200 million gallons of water — including reclaimed water that had been used indoors, groundwater and rain — to the reservoir every day.

For this Green-Up, volunteers will have planted an estimated 4,000 shrubs and grasses on about four acres, officials said.

The agency will irrigate the plants for two growing seasons until they are strong enough to survive on their own.

Brush and vegetation keep the water in the wash, preventing the erosion of the sides.

The native plants were some of the first acquired through a new partnership with nurseries in Nevada, such as state-run ones in places like the Lake Mead National Recreation Area and local stores like Cactus Joe’s in southwest Las Vegas.

Previously, the water authority sourced its native plants from a nursery in Arizona, said Tim Ricks, an environmental biologist with the authority. Plants that biologists find work well include creosote bushes, brittlebrush and others that would have naturally occurred in the Mojave Desert.

“The better we manage and sustain the water in the wash, there’s less work and more opportunity to use it,” Ricks said.

From all walks of life

Also among the volunteers was Eric Tewalt, 51, who took a break from his usual gig playing the saxophone in “Jersey Boys” to do his part and help his son get community service hours for middle school.

Tewalt has been bringing his family to the wash’s trails for years, he said, but only found out about its importance to the water supply when he first volunteered last year.

“It’s so far away from all of that,” Tewalt said, pointing to the Strip in the distance.

Natalie Wurdemann, a 32-year-old UNLV nursing student and Las Vegas resident, brought daughter Anabel, 7, to teach her about giving back.

“We need to create sustainability for generations,” Wurdemann said.

When asked about what the event meant to her, Anabel took two rocks and a stick and arranged them in the shape of a smiley face in the dirt, following earlier directions from a volunteer who told her to help the plants think happy thoughts.

Contact Alan at ahalaly@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AlanHalaly on X.

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