Drought and Shrinking Lake Mead Put the Future of Vegas’ Water Supply at Risk

Despite improvements in water efficiency and conservation, Las Vegas uses more water per capita than just about every other U.S. city, even though it is the driest. No, people there aren’t thirstier than other Americans (at least not for water, that is). They use 70% of their maxed-out water resources on golf courses and other landscaping feats. All of that is even more surprising considering the fact that front lawns are illegal there. It is hard to imagine Las Vegas ever becoming a “dry” city, legally, but the plummeting levels of Lake Mead say that water usage definitely needs to be curtailed.

Nearly 90% of the water that is used in the Sin City comes from Lake Mead, which was constructed with the Hoover Dam, one of the greatest feats of American Engineering. However, the multi-year drought in the west, combined with massive water usage, has caused the giant lake to lose water rapidly. It is now approaching the lowest water levels since it was constructed.

Over the last 25 years, water conservation efforts have reduced the amount of water that each person uses by about 40%. However, over that time, the population of Las Vegas has tripled. As a result, total water usage is up, draining Lake Mead and making continued strides a necessity.

Until March 23, the EPA is sponsoring Fix a Leak Week, in which homeowners are encouraged to scour their homes for leaks and fix them. The average home leaks more than 10,000 gallons per year, and simple repairs could have a significant influence on water usage and conservation.

One of the most important places for homeowners to look is the toilet. “A leaky toilet can use up to 12 gallons of water a minute,” says Greater Cincinnati Water Works Field Services Manager Dave Bennett. For homeowners with significant leaks, buying a new toilet altogether might be the best option. Water efficient toilets use less per flush, saving water, and switching from a toilet that uses 3.5 gallons per flush to one that requires just 1.28 can save homeowners around $64 per year. In Vegas, saving money probably shouldn’t be the only priority, but saving water on every flush is a smart idea.

The water crisis in Las Vegas “has the feel of a patient on life support, with a spaghetti of IV lines coming out of both arms,” notes Eric Holthaus. Whether or not those IV lines will be enough to keep the city lush during an extended drought remains to be seen.


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