Known throughout the world as an oasis from excess, the desert city of Las Vegas is an amazing example of frugality and prudence when it comes to water.
About 2.3 million people live in the arid valley of Las Vegas, and 40 million tourists are drawn every year to casinos and giant hotels.
However, because Nevada is allowed to use less than two percent of all drought-stricken Colorado River water, it has taken drastic measures, from banning lawns to capping the size of swimming pools.
Even as the area’s population has more than halved in the past two decades, use of the Great Dwindling River — Las Vegas’ main water source — has fallen by nearly a third.
“Las Vegas has done a very good job selling its facade of excess and decadence,” said Bronson Mack, a spokesman for the Southern Nevada Water Authority.
“But the truth is, our society is very water-efficient.”
This is due to a combination of tough laws, financial incentives, and education, created during a severe drought in the early 2000s, when the state of Nevada outgrew its river allotment.
Now, as federal officials consider mandatory cuts across the dry western US, Las Vegas has become a “rock star for water conservation” and a “model for cities” across the region, researcher Brian Richter said.
On the Las Vegas Strip, popular casino attractions such as the Bellagio Fountains and the Venetian Canals use non-potable groundwater from private wells.
In the sprawling suburbs, early morning “water patrol” cars with bright lights crawl the streets, looking for broken sprinklers and leaking hoses.
Detectives photograph any violation, before placing a warning flag on the turf for first-time offenders, or recording a fine for repeat offenders.
Detective Cameron Donnarumma said some homeowners get a little upset to find “water cops” in their garden before dawn, but most are cooperative.
In fact, his work relies on informing residents of their more water-guzzling neighbors via an app, which daily results in 20 to 50 home visits by patrols.
“People know when you land in Las Vegas in the Mojave Desert, it’s a very dry place,” said Mack. “It’s a different environment than where I come from.”
By 2027, any watering of “non-functional” lawns—there for purely aesthetic rather than recreational reasons—will be banned, with the exception of single-family residences.
Las Vegas is offering homeowners $3 for every square foot of lawn they remove and replace with water-saving alternatives, such as drip-irrigated plants.
It’s a program that’s been copied in other major American cities, like Los Angeles and Phoenix, Richter said, though smaller towns find it hard to emulate.
“Smaller budgets and limited ability to provide financial incentives in small towns can severely constrain” water conservation programs, he wrote in a recent study.
Programs are not always popular.
Teddy Vilardo, a stay-at-home mom in Las Vegas, told AFP that she complied with new rules that limit her to watering her lawn to 12 minutes, but “she sees a lot of dead spots.”
“I’m going to break the rules,” she said, referring to “too much rain” this winter.
She hates fake grass, because she has two kids and “burns their feet”.
A recent rule limiting new swimming pools to 600 square feet (56 square meters) has infuriated contractors like Kevin Kraft, who designs giant pools for wealthy homeowners.
The industry wasn’t consulted until the legislation was “a done deal,” and Craft says setting a cap based on a percentage of a home’s total plot size would save more water.
He said Nevada officials were “under threat” from the federal government and “had to show their savings.”
“A lot of it is political,” he added.
Nevertheless, Kraft described southern Nevada’s water conservation as “world class.”
“Now, the other states like California? It’s not even close,” he said.
The rules limiting Nevada’s access to the Colorado River, which provides water to 40 million people including California cities and giant farms, were put in place in 1922.
At the time, Las Vegas “barely existed,” Mack said, and was “just a train whistle between Los Angeles and Salt Lake City.”
Now, with water levels dropping in nearby Lake Mead—the nation’s largest reservoir—federal officials plan to make sharp cuts across the West.
This would either be a uniform cut by percentage of all states, or by “senior rights”—essentially, whoever got there first, which would put Nevada near the back of the line.
Mack said Las Vegas’ record of water reductions “could present a challenge for us going forward” if mandatory reductions are based on current usage levels.
Las Vegas, he said, “should get credit for the amount of water we’ve actually saved in this community over the last 20 years.”
“Other communities are just now starting to level up on the conservation board.”
© 2023 AFP
the quote: Las Vegas ‘Water Cops’ Make Model City in Drought-Hit US (2023, May 8) Retrieved May 8, 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023-05-cops-las -vegas-city -drought-hit.html
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