Limiting Las Vegas


The conclusion of a new report by the Sonoran Institute—that Las Vegas’ water supply can’t keep up with its interminable appetite for growth—isn’t particularly surprising. But it is timely.

The recent pummeling Las Vegas took from the recession presented the ballooning city with an opportunity to catch its breath. As the Las Vegas Sun puts it:

The valley could grow again. It could eventually fill the vacant homes and build a heck of a lot more, and it could construct a 300-mile pipeline to suck water out of eastern Nevada to support that.

But will that make a better Las Vegas?

The report's authors think not. The Sonoran Institute, a conservation think tank out of Arizona, developed a model to predict the growth capacity of Vegas' "disposal boundary," which consists of 27,000 acres of BLM land around the city slated for development. Based on current zoning, they determined as many as 500,000 new residents could eventually call the area home, pushing water demand—already too high—up almost 20 percent.

As the Sun points out, the report's findings put environmentalists on the same page as Pat Mulroy, the infamous head of the Southern Nevada Water District, on at least one front: Las Vegas "can't conserve [its] way out of [its] water problem." Mulroy's preferred (but faltering) solution is to import groundwater from rural Nevada. The report, instead, suggests limiting growth, centralizing planning, and considering water constraints in any development decisions. All of which, according to the Sun, would require the city to "[accept] something Las Vegas has defied since its inception—the city is in a desert."

The time may be ripe for that kind of attitude adjustment. "I think there's an opportunity here," Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani told the Sun. "I don't think we'll see the type of resistance here that you would have seen when everyone was depending on growth."

Meanwhile, a clock on the Sun's Web site is counting down the days until Vegas runs out of water: as of this posting, it's 3,947 days, 9 hours, 5 minutes.

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