Clock is Ticking on Las Vegas’ Water Supply

Found this in the comments section at The Oil Drum:

The news coming from the Southern Nevada Water Authority Thursday about the valley’s future water supply is worrisome. Unless we act quickly, there will be no water for hundreds of thousands of Las Vegas Valley residents in just three years.

The problem can be solved, for a while at least, by spending at least $45 millon on new water pumps at Lake Mead. How long the lake could support such extra water demand is an open question as well, for water levels are falling year over year. Keep in mind that Las Vegas already banned sod in front yards in 2004, so they have already taken some steps towards reducing needless water usage.

There’s a couple of different issues here that I see. First, the Southwestern US is home to way more people than it can sustain without massive inputs of energy & water. Las Vegas and Phoenix are the poster children for resource issues, since they have both grown massively in the last 10-15 years, but the list of affected towns must be more extensive than just these two cities. Water shortages in that part of the country are virtually guaranteed at some point in the next decade or so, yet people keep moving there in droves. The housing market situation there may moderate emigration to the Southwest, but that’s not a certainty.

The other issue is one of infrastructure. Our modern society relies on an extensive & complex infrastructure to sustain it, and that infrastructure is expensive both to build and to maintain. Whether it’s water issues in Vegas, the 35W Bridge collapse (and questions about how decisions to rebuild or maintain were made), the lingering rebuilding in New Orleans, or many other issues around the county, it’s obvious that we are not doing the greatest job of maintaining things. With the recent wobbles in the stock market and questions about the dollar’s true worth, our ability to pay for maintenance of existing infrastructure will continue to be a major question mark in the future.

It’s possible to live comfortably in places like the Southwest if you have the ability to pay for energy and water. What happens if you can’t? Issues like Las Vegas’ water problems won’t be able to be swept under the proverbial rug for too much longer. How we all answer those questions in a time of less (or negative) economic growth will prove to be interesting.

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2 Responses to Clock is Ticking on Las Vegas’ Water Supply

  1. Beo says:

    Lake Superior is currently at record lows-this has no relevance to Vegas, just a random fact I heard this week. The Great Lakes fluctuate alot, but in our hair trigger awareness I have alot of friends screaming doom and gloom about this as well. Me? I think it is mostly cyclical and we are augmenting a downturn by messing with watersheds.

    Still, even my 5 yr old can tell you putting several dozen million people in a desert ala Phoenix or Vegas is stupid. “But what will they drink, Daddy?

  2. Bart says:

    I’ve seen stories about the Great Lakes as well, Beo. I agree with you that a lot of it is cyclical, and it’ll come back as long as some of the cockamamie “water-sharing” ideas (i.e. pipelines to California, or ships carrying water elsewhere) that spring up from time to time aren’t implemented.

    The issues with water levels in Lake Mead and the Colorado River are another thing, though, and between increasing demand and lengthening drought conditions, people in the Southwest will have to ask & answer some tough questions in the next decade I think.

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