Protecting Southern Nevada’s Water Supply Through Winning Strategies


With drought conditions in the Colorado River Basin making national headlines, those living outside Southern Nevada may be hesitant to bet on the region’s long-term sustainability. However, with the growing number of new businesses and professional sport franchises moving into the valley, Las Vegas is proving that investments in water resource planning, conservation, infrastructure, and partnerships provide a winning playbook to help diversify and expand our local economy while using less water.

Over the past 20 years, the SNWA has been playing offense to protect Nevada’s Colorado River allocation, the source of 90 percent of the community’s water supply. Managing water resources for 2.3 million residents and the state’s economic engine, the SNWA maintains a 50-year Water Resource Plan that provides a comprehensive overview of projected water demands and the water resources necessary to meet those needs over the next half-century. The plan is updated annually to address potential impacts of drought and climate change on water resource availability, as well as changing economic conditions and water use patterns.

Known throughout the world as a leader in water conservation, Las Vegas is also a leader in water recycling. Nearly every drop of water used indoors is captured, treated and returned back to Lake Mead. Every gallon of water returned, allows our community to draw another gallon out of the lake and treat it to drinking water standards. This means that nearly all water used inside homes and businesses – including hotel rooms on the Las Vegas Strip – is safely recycled back to Lake Mead where we can use it again. This community-wide water reuse strategy stretches our limited Colorado River allocation and sustainably extends our water supply. No other community in the nation reclaims and recycles water to the level Southern Nevada does, and it is a smart strategy that demonstrates our community’s commitment to responsible water use and water management.

Unlike indoor water use, water used outdoors is consumed and cannot be captured or recycled. As a result, our community has implemented some of the most progressive and comprehensive water conservation programs in the world to reduce consumptive water use. This includes successful incentive programs, outdoor watering restrictions, water-efficient development codes and local ordinances that prohibit water waste among others.  A key attribute that makes Southern Nevada’s conservation programs successful is that every economic sector of the community contributes to water conservation. From residents and businesses to churches and casinos, all water users in Southern Nevada are committed to water conservation.

The SNWA’s internationally renowned Water Smart Landscapes Rebate program provides a $3 cash incentive for every square foot of water-thirsty grass that is replaced with drip-irrigated plants and trees. The program, which is being replicated in other Western U.S. cities, has replaced about 215 million square feet of grass, saving more than 175 billion gallons of water since the program began. Through more than two decades of community conservation efforts like this, Southern Nevada has reduced its consumption of Colorado River water by 31 percent despite a population increase of more than 750,000 residents during that time.

In addition to the full-court press to conserve water, the SNWA recently worked with Southern Nevada’s economic development community to create a Water Investment Rating tool, which is designed to help decisionmakers better evaluate the potential impacts of new industries on our water supply and ensure that economic development opportunities are aligned with our community’s water conservation practices. Focused on smart growth, the tool provides a quantifiable and constant method for evaluating water demands and ensuring prospective industries and businesses are water efficient and a good fit for our community.

While water conservation and smart growth strategies help ensure responsible water use, investments made in water infrastructure at Lake Mead help to ensure Southern Nevada maintains access to its primary water supply. Working in tandem, the SNWA’s deep-water intake and low-lake-level pumping station draw water from one of the deepest points of the lake more than 150 feet below the surface. As a result, Southern Nevada can access its water supply below Lake Mead’s “dead pool” elevation of 895 feet—the point at which no water can pass through Hoover Dam to generate power or meet downstream demands in California, Arizona or Mexico. This critical infrastructure ensures that our community maintains access to its primary water supply, even if water levels decline to a point where water cannot be released to downstream users.

As part of its future planning, the SNWA partnered with the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD) to engineer and construct a large-scale recycled water system that will expand future water supplies for both agencies. In exchange for funding a portion of the MWD project, the SNWA will acquire access to a set amount of California’s Colorado River water from Lake Mead, increasing water supplies for Southern Nevada’s future use.

As our community continues to adapt to climate change and a warmer and drier future ahead, maintaining a winning track record of managing water supplies, investing in partnerships, increasing water conservation and enhancing critical infrastructure will keep Southern Nevada well positioned to diversify and expand economic activity in a water efficient manner and help ensure the long-term sustainability of our desert community.