Las Vegas Running Out of Water

Las Vegas Running Out of Water

If you like taking a shower every day, don’t move to Las Vegas. The city is beginning to run out of water because Lake Mead is well below half-full and drying up, according to the UK Telegraph

The area has faced a drought for the last 14 years, and despite the presence of Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the U.S. and the supplier of 90% of the city’s water, the future looks bleak. 

Tim Barnett, a climate scientist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, told the Telegraph, “The situation is as bad as you can imagine. It’s just going to be screwed. And relatively quickly. Unless it can find a way to get more water from somewhere Las Vegas is out of business. Yet they’re still building, which is stupid.”

Lake Mead was built in 1936, created by the Hoover Dam, and has been drained by the population explosion of Las Vegas. The four trillion gallons of water that filled the lake are now less than two trillion, and Barnett thinks the lake will provide nothing to the city by 2036.

The lake’s water level is currently at 1,087 feet above sea level. That has created a massive problem, since there are two pipes called “straws” that transport the water from the lake to the city, and the higher pipe is located at 1,050 feet above sea level. The second pipe is at 1,000 feet, and the lake’s water level is expected to drop another 20 feet by the end of 2014, leaving the water level at 1,067 feet.

The city is desperately trying to finish a lower straw that can suck out the lowest water in the lake, but the giant drill is only able to advance one inch every day, the Telegraph‘s Nick Allen reports. That project is costing the city $817 million and is estimated to be completed by the end of 2015.

Knowing that the extra straw is not a permanent solution, the city has another plan: a  $15.5 billion pipeline to bring 27 billion gallons of groundwater every year from an aquifer 260 miles from Las Vegas in rural Nevada. But that plan has been scuttled by a lawsuit by environmentalists.

Rob Mrowka, a Las Vegas-based scientist at the Centre for Biological Diversity, which fought the pipeline in court, told the Telegraph:

It’s a really dumb-headed proposition. It would provide a false sense of security that there’s plenty of water and it would delay the inevitable decisions that have to be taken about water conservation and restricting growth. The drought is like a slow spreading cancer across the desert. It’s not like a tornado or a tsunami, bang. The effects are playing out over decades. And as the water situation becomes more dire we are going to start having to talk about the removal of people [from Las Vegas].

The Las Vegas Strip has seen the problem and acted accordingly; it uses 7% of the water allotted for Las Vegas while it provides 70% of the city’s economy. The hotel rooms’ sinks and showers use recycled water; some water from toilets gets treated and sent back to Lake Mead. Some of the hotels don’t wash bedroom linen every day; and restaurants only serve water upon request.

But in the city of Las Vegas, an average of 219 gallons of water per person per day is used. That figure ranks near the top in the U.S. By contrast, San Franciscans–who have resisted conservation efforts in the midst of a drought–use only 49 gallons per day, the Telegraph reports.