Unlike California, Vegas isn’t gambling its future on wasting water

California as a whole doesn’t hold a candle to Las Vegas when it comes to hard-calculating water usage

it’s hotter

It grows faster.

It has fewer water resources.

And it significantly reduces water consumption.

The reason is simple.

Though Las Vegas has created an oasis of abundance in one of the driest places in the country, it has a city tour laser-focused on reality.

When it comes to water, nature’s odds are against her.

Significantly more than California, which relies on the towering Sierras to drop precipitation from storm clouds on its western slopes before heading across the Great Basin and into Nevada.

Las Vegas in 2002 came face to face with reality.

Its water supplies fell 16 percent because Southern California exercised its full allotment from the Colorado River to combat a drought that hit the Southwest.

Going all out by not reducing consumption by ignoring the odds nature has thrown at them has been a reckless play on Las Vegas sustainability.

They conceded that ignoring the tendency to “beat” the odds while the West goes through droughts and even years of normal rainfall while development accelerates was a strategy of abandonment.

Las Vegas gets 4.2 inches of rain in an average year.

Manteca gets 15 inches of rain in an average year.

The United States by the way. gets 38 inches of rain in an average year.

There is a dearth of rivers that are large collectors of abundant snow and flow 100 percent through Nevada for which they control water rights.

They rely heavily on one river – the Colorado – along with six other states including California.

The Golden State, whose titans in pre-water development projects are all western, holds priority water rights on the Colorado River.

California has the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers, among others.

Natural rainfall alone does not contribute to lush, rain-fed lawns and lush landscaping in California or Nevada as it does on the East Coast, the South, and even much of the Midwest.

How does Las Vegas do that?

First and foremost, they made it clear to all the players at the table – residents, businesses and farmers – that they were playing the long term. The goal was to get through the dry spell and stay.

This meant facing some facts:

*Nearly 60 percent of their water use was outdoors.

*Most of the 40 percent of indoor water use was captured and after use was discharged into sewers, treated and sent back to Lake Mead where it could be reused.

* Much of Las Vegas—like California—was developed with landscaping that made sense for the Midwest and South.

*The biggest water eaters that left water on the table were lawns and the use of non-native grasses.

Lawns that wouldn’t survive even a week of natural rainfall if rolled down as turf have always been the lowest — and tallest — hanging fruit.

Low-flush toilets, low-water washers, low-flow showerheads, and the like have helped reduce water use in both California and Nevada.

California, as the country’s largest producing farm state, has reduced agricultural water use.

For years, new technologies have helped reduce water use on farms while increasing yield per meter of water used. California continues to work on this while ensuring that the important replenishment of water tables that agricultural use often provides is not lost.

Las Vegas decided that the bizarre sacred cow status accorded to a lawn as foreign and out of place in the West as McDonald’s in Carmel-by-the-Sea had to go.

They began the weaning process where they had the leverage of the fog and made the most sense.

Beginning in 2022, they launched an aggressive incentive program to replace existing residential lawns.

Since then, they’ve removed 205 million square feet of lawn, or the equivalent of 4,700 acres. It was replaced with landscaping that uses 75 percent less water.

In 2004, they banned front lawns in all new residential areas.

The Nevada legislature passed legislation in 2021 mandating that all non-functional grass — in street verges, homeowners’ associations (i.e., sound barriers and medians), businesses, and apartment complexes — be replaced by 2027.

Las Vegas also now bans lawns in the backyards of new homes. The only places in Vegas where lawns can be planted are in parks, schools and cemeteries.

Golf courses have been placed on water budgets.

Unlike Californians, who seem to have an attention span for water issues that lasts until three months after a drought ends or three months after a flood devastates their community, Vegas treated it like the life-and-death resource that it is .

This approach has allowed the community as a whole to ignore the incessant whining about the loss of what is basically eye candy.

It doesn’t look right, not having a lawn to look at is the main complaint of those who didn’t grow up in the desert.

The truth is, what we’re doing in much of California and places like Nevada doesn’t look right because of the natural environment.

The carbon-consuming properties of lawns, as well as their ability to generate oxygen, have been replaced by other landscaping designs that do the job well while using 75 percent less water.

Researcher Brian Richter studied population and water use trends in the Las Vegas metropolitan area.

Due to measures taken by the authorities, especially on lawns, water consumption has fallen by 18 percent between 2000 and 2020, while the population has increased by 24 percent.

That equates to over 48 percent per capita water use in southern Nevada.

Do not get me wrong. California must aggressively pursue groundwater recharge.

The state needs to construct more above-ground storage despite evaporation problems and dead storage, which renders much of the reservoir water unusable for downstream use because it is below the outlets.

These reservoirs must be built at lower elevations where they make sense for changing weather patterns.

And perhaps most importantly, we need to stop behaving like undisciplined players.

We cannot afford to be drawn into the siren song of winning streaks such as periods of exceptional snow and rain.

That’s because, regardless of how climate change is addressed in 2023, the odds in the West are heavily inclined to return to droughts.

Betting on water that we can somehow keep beating the odds without serious consequences is the definition of a water-guzzling gambling addict.

This column represents the opinion of the editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Bulletin or 209 Multimedia. He can be reached at [email protected]


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