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Last Updated: Friday, 29 July 2005, 10:05 GMT 11:05 UK
Vegas heading for 'dry future'
By Carmen Roberts
BBC News

Las Vegas, BBC
The oasis that is Las Vegas could soon run dry, environmentalists fear
Las Vegas is world-renowned as a city of fantasy, flaunting its reputation for excess.

It appears a green oasis of refrigerated plenty, set in a blazing desert.

But environmentalists warn water supplies could run dry within the next 50 years; while urban sprawl is out of control and development is encroaching on protected areas.

No matter how you arrive in Las Vegas, by car or plane, you are immediately struck by the stark contrast of a lush city against a barren desert that stretches in all directions.

Yet, this is a region in the grip of one of the worst droughts on record.

Water myths

Las Vegas consumes around 870 litres (190 gallons) of water per person per day, according to the Western Resource Advocates group.

And each day countless tourists wander up and down the Strip, in awe of dancing fountains, sinking pirate ships, tropical landscaping, pools and many more water features.

But this is one of "Sin City's" greatest myths. Local hotels account for just 7% of the area's total water usage, according to the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

It seems there are too few of us that are willing to stand up and say we need to protect our environment
Jeff van Ee, Southern Nevada Planning Authority
It is a statistic often repeated by Jaime Cruz, energy manager with the MGM Mirage Corporation.

"The hotel casinos use only 30% of their water allocation on outdoor use, while 70% is used indoors in rooms and kitchens and that water is reclaimed and used again," says Cruz.

"Even though the Bellagio has the largest water feature on the Strip, it benefits from ground water. We are consuming less water than when it was functioning as a golf course when it was the old Dunes (hotel)."

But when you look at the residential statistics, the figures are reversed.

Water authorities estimate around 70% of residential water is used outdoors, washing the car and irrigating the lawns, and only 30% is used indoors.

Although Nevada has been banking excess water from the Colorado River in Arizona, environmentalists fear this is a short-term solution.

Welcome to Las Vegas sign
In Las Vegas you are struck by the stark contrast of lush city against barren desert
Jeff van Ee, an environmental activist and a member of the Southern Nevada Planning Authority, fears that, "in 15-20 years from now, our current supplies will be overtaxed and we will need to find an alternate source of water."

The SNWA hopes a $5 billion 555km pipeline from central Nevada could be the answer to the future water needs of Las Vegas.

But farmers and residents in rural parts of the state are unwilling to share the precious resource and it is becoming a battle known as "craps versus crops".

"A lot of people [in central Nevada] are seeing the impact this could have on their way of life and on the springs and natural habitat, and they're saying that as fabulous as Las Vegas may be - this plan to tap ground water is not the best alternative for rural Nevada," Mr van Ee explains.

Explosive growth

Rural farmers have now pressed the Bureau of Land Management to expend the public consultation period for the planned pipeline until the beginning of August.

Nevada State senate majority leader Dina Titus says this a problem that is been compounded by explosive growth in the region.

"Right now, 6,000 people a month are moving to this valley because the weather is good, the taxes are low and there are plenty of jobs," she said.

In 2003, Senator Titus was responsible for a controversial bill that ensured the conservation of Red Rock Canyon, a national conservation area just on the outskirts of the city.

And like many a fellow environmentalist, she is concerned that urban sprawl is now encroaching on surrounding conservation areas like Lake Mead, Spring Mountain and Red Rock Canyon.

"If you can't build enough schools - and it takes one school a month to keep up with the growth - then you lose quality of life. We need to get a handle on the growth and start planning for the future," Senator Titus told the BBC.

Mr Van Ee laments that the town he arrived in some 20 years ago is now the fastest growing urban area in the country.

"It seems there are too few of us that are willing to stand up and say we need to protect our environment."

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