Here's How They Do It
Even though Las Vegas has more people, more hotels, and far larger hotels than ever before, it is using less water today than it was 15 years ago. How could this be? What are they doing right?
Most people know Las Vegas is in a desert, but they do not realize just how dry that desert is. While there was enough water to meet the city's needs back in the 1920s and 1930s, after World War II, when Las Vegas exploded as a gambling and vacation destination, there was no way to address the growing water demands of the city.
So, what they did is start pumping water in from the Colorado River to Lake Mead, directly outside Las Vegas. But they went a step further. They built nearly 2,000 miles of pipelines designed to take sewer water from the city, treat it with forms of bacteria that break down harmful compounds, expose the water to ultraviolet lights to clean and disinfect it, and then pump it back into Lake Mead.
It was then, and still is today, one of the most elaborate water recycling programs ever developed, and this was done long before water recycling was much of an issue in the United States. This water recycling program allowed the city to address its water needs for decades – until the early 1990s.
Things changed in the 1990s because along with the far larger hotels being built, the population of Las Vegas soared. In the 1950s, Las Vegas was home only to about 45,000 people. By 1990, 770,000 people lived in the Las Vegas metropolitan area.
So, what did they do now? Among the new programs implemented to tackle this situation and reduce water consumption were the following:
Banning the use of sod (grass) in the front yards of new residential developments. This step made headlines around the country in 2003 because Las Vegas was one of the first U.S. cities ever to do this. The city wanted to go a step further and ban it from backyards as well, but was concerned it might cause an uproar.
Outlawed the watering of vegetation during daylight hours. One of the problems living in an arid climate is that water evaporates very quickly. If vegetation is irrigated at night, it tends to evaporate more slowly.
Started aggressive campaigns urging citizens to reduce water consumption, which proved surprisingly effective. This was because so many jobs in Las Vegas are tied to the gambling industry. Without water, that industry and those jobs might be gone.
Installed computerized monitors to detect leaks in the city's water infrastructure. The system has identified more than 1,600 underground leaks in the past twenty years, helping to save nearly 300 million gallons of water. That's enough water to supply 1,800 Las Vegas homes.
Encouraging the installation of water-conserving restroom fixtures. Many hotels now have compressed air toilets, which use very little water. Additionally, waterless urinals are now commonplace in many hotels, government as well as private facilities.
According to Bronson Mack, who oversees water resources and operations at the Southern Nevada Water Authority, Las Vegas is doing what it has to do to stay in business. He adds that the city has been so successful in reducing water consumption that, "you could add a million more people, and the [increased] water footprint would be fairly minimal."
The Waterless Co blog is where building owners and managers find expert, practical advice on ways to reduce water consumption and to help use water more efficiently. Our goal is to protect our most valuable of natural resources, help facilities reduce their water consumption and water-related costs, and operate in a more environmentally responsible and sustainable manner. For more information, contact us at 1-800-244-6264