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Smart Water

Smart Water

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    The Las Vegas Valley Water District's Distributed Solar Array includes photovoltaic systems at six reservoir sites, including the Ronzone Reservoir (above), and is expected to generate more than 100 million kW hours of power over the next 20 years. Photo: Las Vegas Valley Water District

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    Las Vegas Public Works director Charlie Kajkowski at the Fremont East Entertainment District Improvements project, a $5.5 million investment in pedestrian-friendly streets and new landscaping. Due to be completed late this year, the project is being financed by the city and Fremont East property owners. Photo: City of Las Vegas

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    Crews from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation use recycled concrete to reinforce the banks of the Las Vegas wash, which conveys approximately 165 mgd of treated wastewater from the Las Vegas Valley to Lake Mead. In the past two years, stabilization efforts have reinforced more than 23,000 feet of bank. Bank-stabilization enhances water quality, improving wildlife habitat and encouraging the wetlands of the wash to flourish. Photo: Southern Nevada Water Authority

The authority pulls 300,000 acre-feet of water from Lake Mead, a man-made lake about 25 miles from Las Vegas that was created when Hoover Dam was built on the Colorado River, and is responsible for directing its flow through more than 160 miles of distribution pipe. That amount has not changed with the area's population boom, nor has the authority gone over its allotment, determined in 1922 and monitored by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

For every gallon of treated wastewater that a member sends back to Lake Mead, the authority gets to pull another gallon out and give it back to that community. Last year, this return flow credit process provided the authority with an additional 220,000 acre-feet of water.

But It's Still Not Enough

In April, the state's Division of Water Resources approved the authority's request to develop a maximum of 60,000 acre-feet of water from the Spring Valley ground-water basin annually to reduce members' reliance on Lake Mead. Members won't be able to use this new water source until 2014; 40,000 acre-feet will be pulled the first 10 years, and another 20,000 acre-feet will be added to the total in stages.

The authority's 50-year projections show that conservation is going to be the key to ensuring that the Valley has enough water to sustain its growth and tourism (about 39 million people visited Las Vegas last year).

The relationship between Las Vegas and the Southern Nevada Water Authority is quite simple: The authority gives the city's water purveyors a certain amount of water to meet water demands, offers guidelines on how to use and re-use it, and offers both residents and businesses tips and rebates so water is used wisely. Then it steps back and watches.

Through the return flow credit process, last year Las Vegas used about 520,000 acre-feet of water. In addition, the city's wastewater agencies treat and send back to Lake Mead all of the water that's used indoors, stretching every drop. Many hotels and casinos treat water on their property and re-use it to fill canals, water plants, or maintain equipment that requires water.

Anyone who has ever been to Las Vegas knows it's an eye-popping, over-indulging, and sensory-overload place. Water plays a big role in everything from hotel fountain displays to the ice cubes clinking in gamblers' drinks to keeping the golf courses green.

Kajkowski follows this goal of conservation, and he doesn't worry about the next generation running out of water.

“It's all about vision,” he says. “We're in the middle of a desert, but with more efficient use of water and energy, I'm confident Las Vegas will survive well into the future.”

Read more articles on Las Vegas' water preservation efforts