Sunday, June 8, 2014 | 2 a.m.
Surviving in the desert made Las Vegas an expert in squeezing the most out of every drop of water. Now, local leaders are looking to turn that expertise into a stream of new jobs.
Officials hope to launch a homegrown industry around water technology to pump tens of millions of dollars and thousands of jobs into the economy. If the plan works, Las Vegas could become an international hub for the design, manufacture and use of water technologies, such as leak detection tools and purification filters.
A delegation of the state’s top water, higher education and economic development officials spent the past week recruiting water tech businesses during a conference in Singapore.
The sales pitch included traditional Nevada talking points: low taxes, limited regulation and a busy international airport. But it also highlighted a few twists former water czar Pat Mulroy said make Las Vegas the perfect place for water tech.
Societies across the globe increasingly will turn to technology to keep up with the growing demand for fresh water for crops, drinking water and the environment.
“You can’t add 2 billion people to this planet without adding some really sophisticated technology,” Mulroy said. “There’s a fundamental shift that’s going to happen this century. We’re at the threshold of this new business venture that has to happen.”
The global water market already is valued at $450 billion and eventually could rival the oil industry in size, according to a 2011 report by Citigroup. The industry is expected to grow at a steady pace of 4 to 6 percent annually as climate change and population growth stress water supplies.
Here, private companies can use a Lake Mead research facility owned by the Southern Nevada Water Authority to test new technologies with large volumes of water.
Desert Research Institute, the environmental research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education, already is doing cutting-edge work on water and can help recruit other companies to the valley, said Mulroy, who teaches a distinguished faculty associate at the research institute.
The Nevada Center of Excellence, a public-private economic development group, is leading the push to bring water technology jobs to Southern Nevada. The center launched in 2012 with $3.7 million in state funding. Its strategy is to recruit established international water companies that want to expand into the United States, said Interim Director Ken Ladd said.
Ladd sees technology developed at Desert Research Institute eventually being licensed to private enterprises, providing another source of revenue for the university system and the region. Ladd said the effort could bring 30 to 50 companies and up to 2,500 jobs to Southern Nevada over the next five years.