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Published on February 20th, 2008 | by Janel Sterbentz

6

Las Vegas Ripping Up Lawns to Save Water, But is it Enough?

February 20th, 2008 by

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In an effort to reduce water usage, in 1999 Las Vegas began to offer $1.50 per square foot of lawn removed from residential and commercial properties. The Water Smart Landscapes program estimates that every square foot of grass replaced with water-smart trees, shrubs and flowers saves an average of 55 gallons of water per year, also saving money on monthly water bills. In the first eight years of the measure, about six square miles of grass have been eliminated, saving 18 billion gallons of water.

Despite these efforts, if Las Vegas and surrounding areas do not further cut water usage, there is a 10 percent chance Lake Mead will run dry in six years, and a 50 percent probability it will be completely gone by 2021. These figures are based on a recent study by two researchers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego.

Study co-author Tim Barnett, a marine research physicist, said, “We had not expected the problem to be so severe and so up close to us in time.” They say climate change, strong human demand and evaporation are the main factors affecting water in the lake.

Lake Mead contained 35.2 billion tons of water eight years ago, but this has fallen by half because of a decrease in the volume of water flowing in the Colorado River. A drying Colorado River would affect millions of people from Tucson to Tijuana, and Denver to Los Angeles.

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According to American Water Works Association Research Foundation about 56 percent of total water used in the US is for residential consumption. Furthermore, 57 percent of residential water goes to watering the yard. In winter in Las Vegas, the watering of gardens is only permitted once a week on a designated day for just 12 minutes. Those violating the watering regulation more than twice are subject to fines of up to 2,560 dollars. However these efforts may not be enough.

Scott Huntley , a spokesman for the Southern Nevada Water Authority said “While we wholeheartedly support the authors’ call for greater urban water conservation, it is important to also remember that agriculture uses four-fifths of the Colorado River’s flows, so meaningful solutions cannot be borne solely by urban users.”

Mayor Oscar Goodman of Las Vegas has other ideas on how to keep Las Vegas alive. Last Tuesday he declared, “no one is going to allow us to go dry” and vowed to go after Southern California’s water. He said farmers in California “will have their fields go fallow before our spigots run dry.” Finally he said, “We’ll see you at the battlefront,” possibly opening up a multi-state water war.

Water issues are not just affecting the southwestern US. Kaveh Zahedi from the UN Environment Programme says, “Currently, at least 24 nuclear plants in the south-eastern United States face shutdown or drastically limited operations because severe drought conditions have lowered the levels of lakes and rivers that supply cooling water – that’s 23% of the nation’s 104 nuclear power plants.”

If we don’t stop climate change now, the future of water in the US will undoubtedly create more water wars between states and cities, and increase water and electricity bills exponentially.

See also:

R.I.P. Lake Mead, U.S. Southwest

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About the Author

I am but one of many tree-hugging vegetarian bicyclists living in progressively green Portland, Oregon. I have a Master's of Urban Studies and Planning from Portland State University, and I worked for a bit at the Portland Office of Transportation. I have lived, traveled and studied in many European cities and towns to learn about their compact, pedestrian-scaled and bicyclist friendly infrastructure. My goal is to create communities that are socially cohesive, beautiful, and easy to travel by bike and foot; thereby reducing pollution, improving physical health and building community.



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  • Justin D

    Southern California needs to start taking responsibility for the water it’s using. Las Vegas has significantly cut it’s water usage even as the metropolitan area has continued to grow. When I’m in Southern California I see lots of green lawns in the winter and lots of sprinklers going off. Why isn’t Southern California on similar water restrictions as Southern Nevada? Our golf courses, public parks, and many public fountains all use grey water as well, not just those on the Strip. The Las Vegas area is right next to the Colorado River. Southern California takes more water than any other area that receives water from Lake Mead. It’s time for Southern California to be held responsible for their actions or more in-actions. Responsible water usage should be a top priority, especially for an area dependent on importing its water from other areas. Northern California has already released less water to Southern California, with the attitudes towards our water and power supply in Southern Nevada it’s only a matter of time before Nevada follows suit as the Las Vegas area continues to grow. Southern California should have invested years ago in desalination or additional water supplies.

  • Uncle B

    Having green lawns is a 17th century British fetish! We need to stop copying an era long gone, and develop our own distinctively American style! legalize Hemp, not that other stuff, and make bio-diesel from it – in every front yard! as a sign of American solidarity against Arab domination! Come on, show some balls! plant your whole goddamn yard to hemp and get others to do the same, then find some enterprising American to harvest it and make bio-diesel and paper from it!Do things in a ballsey American way!

  • California uses 15 more times water from the Colorado River than Nevada does. And… it has to be pushed across numerous mountain ranges using huge amounts of electricity. In fact, much of the power from Hoover Dam is used just for that purpose.

    Arizona uses 4 times more water from the Colorado River than Nevada does.

    The vast marjority of the water in attractions like Bellagio fountains is gray water… treated water from sinks and showers in the hotel.

    Las Vegas in reality is a Colorado River city, sitting in close proximity to the river. Google map it and see for yourself.

    Perhaps shining the spotlight on the environmental costs of pumping most of the Colorado River’s water hundreds of miles into Southern California should be given a harder look before Nevada’s tiny allotment (which is pumped less than 20 miles) is made the issue.

  • Jim47

    Yah gotta love the ‘tude of Sin City Mayor Oscar Goodman, don’tcha? Here his city is ripping up lawns left and right to save water, but rather than put more of an onus on Clark County’s outrageous growth, he decides that California and Arizona farmers will need to let their fields go empty before Vegas will give up on filling casino pools and fountains. Hey, Oscar! Where yah gonna get the food for all those tourists, huh? How much do you grow in Nevada, anyway? Yeah, that’s what I thought: three ticks above nada.

    It all comes down to too many people. It will always come down to too many people until Earth loses about a billion of us. I’m in no hurry to leave, but at least when I go, I’ll be doing the planet a favor.

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