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Southern Nevada Water Authority

SNWA responds to Slate.com article on water conservation in Southern Nevada

Water Smart Landscapes Rebate program

More than 160 million square feet of
grass has been removed in Southern
Nevada through the Water Smart
Landscapes Rebate programs.

Southern Nevada Water Authority's conservation manager Doug Bennett responds to a recent article on Slate.com regarding water conservation efforts in Southern Nevada.

Eric Holthaus' article "The Thirsty West: What Happens in Vegas Doesn't Stay in Vegas," perpetuates common misperceptions about how my city manages water.

Except for anecdotal observations made during his 25-mile windshield survey of Las Vegas, Holthaus appears to have gleaned most of his information from the Internet. Had he taken a few extra hours to actually meet with water managers in the region, Slate readers may have benefited from a better understanding of the West's water challenges.

The West is likely to grow in the future. It is not feasible to tell Americans they're no longer allowed to move West. Mr. Holthaus should understand this well since he moved to Tucson from Wisconsin. Rather, the job of Western water managers is to prepare for population increases.

That's why more than a decade ago, Southern Nevada agencies adopted comprehensive development standards that dramatically decreased water demands of new buildings. At a time when an Environmental Protection Agency study found many cities are building homes that demand more water than those that preceded them, our post-2003 homes use about 40 percent less. By adopting these standards, we're one of very few cities that reversed the trend of ever-thirstier development, thus allowing us to focus our programming on retrofitting older homes and businesses.

So far, southern Nevadans have converted more than 160 million square feet of lawns to "water smart" landscaping, reducing water demand by more than 9 billion gallons annually. Our Water Smart Home program has produced more than 10,000 new homes that use about half as much water as pre-2003 homes, making it the largest and most successful such program in the nation. Yet, despite this success, Holthaus surprisingly mocks us for putting our new residents into more efficient buildings.

He starts by stating that our 199 gallons per capita per day (GPCD) goal is nearly twice the California statewide average, yet the California Department of Water Resources shows the California average to be 192 GPCD. Additionally, Southern Nevada and California use very different methods to calculate these numbers. If southern Nevada calculated GPCD by California's methodology, our extraordinary level of reuse puts our water use at just 130 GPCD.

And while we, too, applaud the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission's extraordinary efficiency, it's important to note that SFPUC customers are just one-fifth of the Bay Area's 4.4 million people. According to the California Department of Water Resources, historic baseline water demand in the greater San Francisco Bay Region is about 155 gallons per person per day, not the 49 GPCD Holthaus cited for SFPUC. Fortunately, Slate's readers are perceptive enough to realize that a city with a cool, wet climate may have lower water demand than one in the heart of the Mojave Desert.

While climate plays a major role in suppressing water demand in northern coastal California, population density is also at play. Holthaus' used his sighting of a Las Vegas homebuilder's billboard to suggest Las Vegans are living in mini-mansion estates, but the truth is that Las Vegas is relatively compact. At more than 6,500 residents per square mile, Las Vegas has the highest population density of any major metropolitan area of the interior West, even beating out coastline-bound Seattle and Portland, and rivaling that of San Diego.

Finally, to correct a misperception about golf courses: Southern Nevada's golf courses use a little less than 7 percent of our water resources, helped along by the fact that many of them are using reclaimed water for irrigation. All are bound by water budgets.

Don't get me wrong: I don't disagree with Holthaus' assessment that we still have far to go. We're proud of our accomplishments, but we're the first to acknowledge there's still much work to be done.

Ours is a city that rarely elicits indifference: People either love it or they love to hate it. Wherever you stand, be assured, water efficiency is a critical part of Las Vegas' water supply plan.


Doug Bennett
Conservation Manager
Southern Nevada Water Authority

 

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