All that glitters is not gold. The bright bulbs of Las Vegas can hypnotize even the most unimpressed individuals. The beautiful lights, the fountains, casinos, restaurants and the spectacular hotels that keep multiplying like bacteria can often be overwhelming.
Behind all the glitz and glamour, there lies a huge potential problem of devastation for Las Vegas and the state of Nevada — running out of water.
Nevada is one of the driest states in the nation and does not have much access of the most important life-sustaining liquid on the planet.
Charles Wilkinson and Sarah Bates, authors of “Searching out the Headwaters”, stated that, “Water policy has become the Gordian knot of the American West, a system so tangled that it can never be untied.”
The imagery of the Gordian knot, a knot tied by King Gordius so tight and complex that no one could undo it, is often evoked in association with a complex problem such as the water issue Las Vegas is facing today.
The vast majority of the water that is used by Southern Nevada and Las Vegas comes from the Colorado River and Lake Mead.
The Colorado’s water rights are laid out in a jumble of laws, beginning with informal mining and agricultural laws from the 1922 Colorado River Compact.
The Compact divides the river basin into two areas: The Upper Basin, which includes the states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and a small portion of Arizona. The Lower Basin includes the states of Arizona, California and Nevada.
The major purpose of the Colorado River Compact was to provide for an equitable division and apportionment of the use of the waters of the Colorado River System. A major criticism of the current delivery of water is its inefficient distribution and allocation.
Las Vegas is at the forefront of all the water problems, not only because of its demand, but also because of its unique growth and initial limited allocation of water from the Compact.
By 2008, Southern Nevada’s population had increased to nearly 2 million people, most of whom reside in the Las Vegas valley alone, according to the Clark County Census records of 2008. Tremendous increases in population and the use of water that Las Vegas demands, along with continued drought, results in the growing dilemma of running out of water.
The Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) 2006 Water Resource Plan was created to address the current water demands of Southern Nevada.
Current water resources include the basic apportionment of 300,000 acre-feet per year, return flow credits, unused Nevada water, and the Las Vegas Valley groundwater rights. The main goal of the plan is to maximize resources management and funding. In 2009, the new goal of the SNWA was 199 gallons per capita per day by 2035.
The Bureau of Land Management and the SNWA recommended the approval of a platform diverting groundwater from three counties in eastern Nevada by routing underground pipelines for hundreds of miles to Las Vegas.
The route of the proposed pipelines, which will take approximately 12 years to build and cost between $3.5 and $12 billion, would not be without other environmental impacts and oppositions.
The pipeline would alter natural habitats of desert animals and fish because of the placement of the aquifers in certain areas of the counties. Many neighboring states including Utah have filed petitions for judicial review appealing Nevada’s plan.