Will Las Vegas Run Out of Water in the Future?

The future of water in Las Vegas is uncertain. With two decades of drought depleting the Colorado River and Lake Mead, the city is now pumping water from the depths of the lake. The amount of precipitation that falls in the West in the coming years will determine how much water is available for Las Vegas and other downstream states.

The Las Vegas Sun tells the region's epic water story, based on the lives of five passionate, intelligent and determined people who are at the center of the problem. The arid region depends heavily on Lake Mead and the Colorado River for its water supply. While the lack of green space on the Strip, as well as the focus on desert plants for decoration and low-flow showerheads in rooms, have helped some of the industry's most famous names set and achieve impressive water goals.

Low-level intake allows Las Vegas to “maintain access to its primary water supply in Lake Mead, even if water levels continue to decline due to continuing drought and climate change conditions,” he said. Over the past 20 years, the city has imposed restrictions on watering new land and gardens, while the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) has spent millions on a pumping station project to increase capacity. It's also the water quality, the endangered species that live in the rivers and streams of southern Nevada, and the recreational opportunities that make the region's national parks so popular.

The decision to begin using what was considered protection against faucet depletion comes as water managers in several states that rely on the Colorado River take new steps to conserve water amid what has become a perpetual drought. Despite images of luxurious hotel pools and casinos along the Strip, most of the water escapes through the city's drains. What Las Vegas needs is for the rest of the system not to crumble catastrophically, because that's where all the uncertainty and risks lie.

If Lake Mead fell to 1,050 or 1,000 feet above sea level, Las Vegas would have no way of obtaining water unless other states reduced its use to shore up the reservoir. The River Act became a complicated, decades-old fiasco that involved costly litigation and political disputes, largely because of the difference between the water that is actually in the river and the water in paper. Despite having about 800,000 more residents than in 2002, Las Vegas uses less water today than it did then.

High-end homes that use nearly 10 million gallons or more per year may soon face an additional level of luxury on their water bill. Water managers are increasingly forced to navigate a world of unknowns as different nodes of this large watershed face stress due to lack of water. The decision to fully open a pumping station is an indication of Lake Mead's fall over the past decade and serves as a bulwark against possible physical access loss as regional problems in Colorado River become increasingly serious.