The Looming Water Crisis in Las Vegas
Walking up and down the Las Vegas Strip, as I did while I visted Sin City for the CES 2012 trade show, it is breathtaking the wealth that has long been plunked, and constantly rebuilt, in the Nevada desert. Newer developments like the ARIA, where I stayed as a guest of Panasonic, are posh and boast the finest amenities. Limousines and sleek high-end cars rule Las Vegas Boulevard. Mock or marvel at them as you wish, but resorts like the Venetian and Paris pay incredible attention to details from architecture to amenities. Then there is the water. The Venetian’s beloved ice skating rink (pictured above left, click to expand) had its last day on Sunday. The Bellagio still has its incredible water show. Fountains are all over the properties, including the one at Caesar’s Palace that pays homage to Roman gods including, of course, Baccus, the Roman god of wine (below right). And the landscaping inside and outside are vibrant and full of gorgeous plants and flowers. You would have no idea that Las Vegas and the region’s 2 million people were accelerating towards a huge water crisis. It first crossed my mind when I drank the water at the ARIA, which was acrid and rank. The bottles of Evian handed out at the hotel’s gym took care of that issue for guests who did not want to pay for the bottle of Fiji Water inside the room. The barren, breathtaking, and I believe, beautiful desert landscape I could see from my room at the ARIA was a stark contrast to the towering palm trees and towering hotels around which I was surrounded for 48 hours. But Las Vegas has a huge water fight on its hands, as even nearby Lake Mead does not have enough water to quench the city’s businesses, resorts and homes. And the brawl is reminiscent of what residents of California’s Owens Valley endured over 100 years ago as Los Angeles decided to dig far in order to satisfy the water needs of the city’s growing population. Now the divide between small towns, ranchers and farmers against Nevada’s largest city could get ugly in 2012. As Jim Malewitz of the political blog Stateline.org points out, the drive to prevent Las Vegas from becoming thirsty is a tall order:
Though an impressive snowmelt this spring boosted supply when it streamed down the Colorado River -- provider of 90 percent of Southern Nevada’s water -- the region worries constantly about the effects of drought. Under current conditions, the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) claims the region’s demand for water will eclipse supply by late in the next decade. And a study released this spring by the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation found that climate change (or climate volatility) could reduce Southern Nevada’s share of the Colorado River by at least 7 percent each year.That annual decrease is a huge threat to the Las Vegas region's economy, just as recovery appears to slowly take hold in recent months. The region is becoming a bulwark of innovative health care providers and information technologies, and they will all need safe access to water. Water stewardship must be on the agenda of residents and businesses so that everyone in southern Nevada can enjoy that most enviable lifestyle. The hospitality industry has got to have a central role, too, though that will not be easy: admonishing guests and employees to be more mindful of water use is a prickly task when travelers and revelers want to behave differently (and more decadently) than they do when they at home. Watch for water fireworks to mark Las Vegas in the coming year. Photo courtesy Vincent Casella (click to expand).