Thursday, Jan. 28, 2016 | 2 a.m.
Although Southern Nevada sits in one of the world’s most parched climates, it’s also poised to become a world leader in the technology and policy needed to keep water flowing. That’s not a coincidence — by living so close to the bone, Las Vegas has been forced to innovate in ways that the rest of the Southwest is only now beginning to catch up to.
That’s according to several experts who will be convening for a Week of Water that begins with a conference Friday at UNLV and continues with a summit convened by the Jewish National Fund next Wednesday.
“There are no limits to growth,” said Tom Skancke, former CEO of the Las Vegas Global Alliance. “There are limits to resources.”
Much of the thinking on how to grow with limited resources happens at the Nevada Center of Excellence, a nonprofit established in 2013 to commercialize water technology in the state.
“We’re an incubator,” said Nathan Allen, the center’s executive director. The center works to identify demand by the state’s water agencies and other stakeholders for innovative technology, then recruits companies to come to Nevada to meet those needs.
Officials have made connections with counterparts around the world, including such countries as Singapore, Finland and England. Another link is with Israel, which has long grappled with desert conditions similar to those in Nevada.
Two companies that have been recently recruited to expand from Israel to Nevada are Ayyeka, a manufacturer of remote water sensors, and Outlocks, a security company that makes high-tech locks for water facilities, meters, manholes and other uses. The Center of Excellence expects to facilitate the arrival of four more Israeli companies by June and is in negotiations with the Israeli Ministry of Economy to provide matching funds for companies that expand to Nevada.
Bringing companies to Nevada is half of the battle — the other is to help the ones that are already here grow up. That’s a task for which Allen said much work is still needed to be done.
“Our economy is not very diverse," he said.
But what Southern Nevada does have is strong demand for innovation. “We have a cluster of first adopters, both here and up in Reno,” Allen said. “So we’re trying to leverage those things.”
That will take buy-in from gaming corporations and other companies, training through the higher education system and public support. In other words, it’s an all-of-the-above strategy.
Pat Mulroy, former head of the Southern Nevada Water Authority and now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, thinks that approach presents an opportunity for Nevada to become a global leader on water resource management, conservation innovation, policy-making, regulation and the law. “No one has brought together the different disciplines involved,” she said. Mulroy said Southern Nevada has a chance to become as well known for water leadership as it is for gaming and hospitality.
It may be one that seems far-fetched to outsiders, but few regions are as adaptable at coping with limited resources than Las Vegas.
The rest of the world is beginning to notice.
“I went to a water conference in Singapore in 2014 (at which) people from around the world lined up to take their picture with Pat Mulroy,” Skancke said. “Here, we take her for granted, but she is one of the most respected water authorities in the world.”
• • •
"WEEK OF WATER"
"Turbulent Waters: Brokering a Secure World"
9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Friday
Boyd Law School Thomas and Mack Moot Court Facility
Presented by the Boyd Law School, Saltman Center for Conflict Resolution, Desert Research Institute and Brookings Institution
• Opening welcome and overview: Dan Hamilton, dean, Boyd School of Law; Pat Mulroy, senior fellow for climate adaptation and environmental policy, Brookings Institution/Boyd Law School
• Presentation, "The Latest Assumptions in the West’s Climate Future," by Kelly Redmond, research professor of climatology, Desert Research Institute
• Panel discussion, "Using Climate Science in Water Planning," moderated by Mulroy and featuring Terry Fulp, regional director, Bureau of Reclamation’s Lower Colorado Region, Leo Drozdoff, director of Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and Thomas Piechota, vice president for economic outreach and development, UNLV
• Presentation, "Water as an Essential Concern in National Security," by Michael O’Hanlon, senior fellow, Brookings Institution
• Luncheon keynote, "Innovative Partnerships — The Key to Improved Resource Management and Resilience," by Michael Connor, deputy secretary of Interior, U.S. Department of the Interior
• Presentation, "Role of Water Security in Economic Development," Tom Skancke, former CEO, Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance
• Panel discussion, "Is Nevada prepared for 21st century?" moderated by Nathan Allen, executive director, Nevada Center of Excellence, and featuring John Entsminger, general manager, Southern Nevada Water Authority, Mark Foree, general manager, Truckee Meadows Water Authority, and Bret Birdsong, deputy solicitor, U.S. Department of the Interior/professor of law, Boyd Law School
• Registration: $100, law.unlv.edu
• Closing remarks by Steve Hill, executive director, Governor’s Office of Economic Development
• Las Vegas Water Summit
9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday
Stan Fulton Building, UNLV
Presented by Jewish National Fund
• Keynote speaker: Seth M. Siegel, author of "Let There Be Water: Israel's Solution for a Water-Starved World"
Speakers: Russell Robinson, CEO, Jewish National Fund, Steve Hill, executive director, Nevada Governor's Office of Economic Development, Yaki Lopez, consul for political affairs, Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles
• Host: Shelley Berkley, CEO and senior provost, Touro University
• Moderators: Pat Mulroy, senior fellow for climate adaptation and environmental policy, Brookings Institution/Boyd Law School, and Nathan Allen, executive director, Nevada’s Water Center of Excellence
• Panelists: David L. Johnson, deputy general manager, engineering/operations, LVVWD/SNWA; Jason Wuliger, co-founder and vice president of SplashLink.com; Steve Parrish, P.E., general manager/chief engineer, Clark County Regional Flood Control District; Cindy Ortega, senior vice president and chief sustainability officer, MGM Resorts International.
Registration: $45, jnf.org
• • •
THREE QUESTIONS WITH SETH SIEGEL
What are some water technologies that the United States could adopt?
There’s lots of stuff. Algorithms for determining cracks. Tiny turbines in city water pipes to run underground meters that measure water quality and flow. Sonar detectors in Jerusalem that activate every night at 3 a.m. to hear where there are leaks. Every one of those started as a beta test in an Israeli municipality.
But does it do you any good to adopt the technology without also the culture of water conservation?
Israel has turned water into an existential issue. That was the key to their success. In the same way that military and immigration are existential issues for them, it is the same with water. The question is, how important is water? Are you prepared to sacrifice for a better water future?
Is the United States there yet?
Not yet, no. I don’t think so. That’s the saddest thing in the world. We shouldn’t have to have our backs up against the wall before we act.