Thursday, July 25, 2019 | noon
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Understanding water issues and infrastructure is necessary for all desert dwellers. It’s our responsibility to ensure there will be enough water for future generations, particularly when water resources are threatened and under significant strain. “When I moved to Las Vegas almost 30 years ago, water investment and conservation tactics allowed me to land here,” says Bronson Mack of Southern Nevada Water Authority.
“This community was able to provide for me because of the efforts of the people who came before me. They set the stage for myself and millions of others to call Southern Nevada their home, and we need to continue to pay that forward.” Part of that responsibility is understanding how our water system works. Here are the basics.
Where does our water come from?
Ninety percent of Southern Nevada’s water comes from Lake Mead, which is fed by the Colorado River. We share this water with Arizona, California, New Mexico, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado and Mexico. Ten percent comes from groundwater resources pumped from the local aquifer beneath our feet.
- Lake Mead has three intakes capable of drawing water from different depths for use in Southern Nevada. The most newly constructed, Intake 3, began operation in 2015 amid concerns of declining lake levels. It has the deepest reach of the three access points.
- Water is pumped from the intakes and sent to a treatment plant, where it’s treated to safe drinking water standards.
- It’s then distributed via pumping station to more than 100 reservoirs and tanks throughout the Valley …
- … before making its way to Southern Nevada homes and businesses.
World-class water systems
In Southern Nevada, 99% of all water used indoors is recycled.
“Nevada has some of the most advanced wastewater systems in the country,” Mack says. “You take a longer shower without guilt, knowing that water will be recycled and used again down the line.” Water used indoors is treated and sent back to Lake Mead for future use. On the other hand, water used outdoors cannot be recycled and drains our resources, which is why outdoor watering restrictions are crucial.
Water conservation is a multifaceted effort that requires the support of the entire community. Because the Valley has adopted comprehensive conservation practices, Colorado River water usage has decreased, even as Clark County’s population has grown, Mack says. Since 2002, the population of Southern Nevada has increased 46% but water use per capita has decreased 38%.
Outdoor water-saving tips
Unlike water used indoors that is reclaimed and safely recycled back to Lake Mead, water used outdoors cannot be recycled or reused.
- Follow watering restrictions Adhering to seasonal water schedules is a big water saver. In spring and fall, outdoor watering is limited to three days per week and only one day in winter. In the summer—May through August—watering outdoors is permitted Monday through Saturday, before 11 a.m. and after 7 p.m. The Sunday watering restriction, implemented in 2016, saves more than 900 million gallons of water each year, Mack says.
- Remove nonfunctional turf “Nonfunctional turf” is grass that is not used for any reason other than aesthetics. This includes medians, traffic roundabouts and entrances of HOA communities. “We want grass where it makes sense—in parks, schools, ball fields and other places that the community can use and enjoy it,” Mack says. SNWA’s turf conversion program, wherein nonfunctional turf has been replaced with water-smart landscaping, has saved 130 billion gallons of water since 1999.
Drought in the Colorado River
The Colorado River has been experiencing severe drought conditions since 2000, causing Lake Mead’s water levels to decline about 130 feet. “A drought is a slow-moving natural disaster,” Mack says. “You usually don’t realize you’re in a drought until you’re already waist-deep.” Lake Mead’s water level is at 1,085 feet. Should water levels continue to decline, the Bureau of Reclamation projects that the lake may face shortage conditions in the coming years, reducing the amount of water available to Nevada, Arizona, California and Mexico. Because of conservation efforts, Southern Nevada is prepared to meet the community’s water needs even if shortage conditions are declared.
Though Southern Nevada’s water supplies are secure, there is a lot being done by the Las Vegas Valley Water District and the Southern Nevada Water Authority to keep it that way. “For all efforts considered, Lake Mead is about 15 feet higher today than it would be without water-saving interventions of our community and other users of the Colorado River,” Mack says. He also said that we will not have a water shortage condition in 2020, in part as a result of a great snowpack this year and the conservation efforts of all regions that rely on the Colorado River.