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A boat sailing on Lake Mead.

Responding to drought

Southern Nevada relies on the Colorado River for 90 percent of its water supply.

The Colorado River system is facing the worst drought in the river basin's recorded history. The water level of Lake Mead, which serves as one of the river's primary water storage reservoirs, has dropped about 170 feet since January 2000.

Because of the low water levels at Lake Mead, the federal government has issued a water shortage declaration on the Colorado River, reducing the amount of water Southern Nevada can withdraw from Lake Mead beginning in January 2022. Combined with existing water reductions outlined in the Drought Contingency Plan, the declared shortage will cut Southern Nevada’s annual water allocation by nearly 7 billion gallons in 2022. This is enough water to serve more than 40,000 households for a year. Should Lake Mead’s water level continue to decline, additional cuts will follow.

For more than 20 years, the Southern Nevada Water Authority has been taking actions to respond to the drought and prepare for potential water cuts. Our Water Resource Plan details how we plan to meet the community’s water needs, both in the short term and for the next half-century.

Safeguarding our water supply

The Water Authority has implemented a number of strategies to lessen the impact of drought. From the development of new facilities and aggressive conservation, to water banking and system conservation initiatives, these efforts have reduced the potential for customer impacts.

The Authority has built a low lake level pumping station and a third drinking water intake to ensure access to our community's water supply in Lake Mead should lake levels continue to fall. The intake also will address water quality challenges caused when warmer surface water draws closer to intake openings.

Water conservation efforts

Over the past two decades, the Authority established one of the nation’s most comprehensive and aggressive water conservation programs in Southern Nevada. These efforts have been effective. The community used 24 billion gallons less water in 2020 than in 2002, despite a population increase of more than 780,000 residents during that time. This represents a 47-percent decline in the community’s per capita water use since 2002.

However, continued declines in Lake Mead’s water level are expected as Southern Nevada experiences a permanent transition to a more arid future, the result of ongoing climate change. For this reason, additional efforts are needed to ensure a reliable long-term water supply for our community.

What does a federal water shortage on the Colorado River mean for Las Vegas?

We're facing tough water challenges in our valley, and they're about to get tougher. The federal government has declared a water shortage on the Colorado River, our primary source of drinking water.

Several major new water efficiency measures have either been adopted or are being considered by the Water Authority.

Removing "useless" grass

In 2021, the Nevada Legislature directed the Water Authority Board of Directors to develop a plan for the removal of “nonfunctional” turf grass around businesses and along streetscapes and medians throughout the Las Vegas Valley by 2027.

Prohibiting installation of new grass

In December 2021, the Southern Nevada Water Authority Board of Directors approved a resolution to prohibit the installation of irrigated grass in new commercial and residential developments. Grass will still be permitted in schools and parks for community use, as well as cemeteries. The prohibition of grass in new developments will save approximately 27,000 acre-feet of water over the coming decades.

Prohibiting grass in front and backyards of new residential developments reduces the impact of growth on our community’s water supply, helping ensure any new residential developments do not affect water supplies for existing homes and businesses. Local municipalities will need to adopt and enact the new conservation measure into city and county development codes.

Once adopted into municipal development codes, the grass prohibition will apply to front and backyards of new residential developments, including HOAs, neighborhood developments, community associations, and master planned communities built by developers, as well as individual custom homes built by property owners.

Moratorium on evaporative cooling

The Board voted to pass a resolution supporting a moratorium on the installation and use of evaporative cooling mechanisms in new commercial and industrial buildings in the Las Vegas Valley. This restriction does not apply to single-family homes. Evaporative cooling mechanisms are highly water intensive and are Southern Nevada's second largest consumptive use of water, exhausting nearly 10 percent of Southern Nevada’s Colorado River allocation annually.

Alternative cooling technologies are available that are less water intensive. SNWA's member agencies will also need to adopt and enact this measure into regulatory codes, ordinances, and policies before this moratorium can be enforced.

Limiting residential pool sizes

The Southern Nevada Water Authority is working with local jurisdictions to modify building and development codes, limiting the surface area of new residential swimming pools and spas to no more than 600 square feet per property.

While the average size swimming pool in Southern Nevada is about 475 square feet, the new pool size limits will prevent large-scale, water-intensive residential swimming pools.

The Las Vegas Valley Water District approved the new conservation measure, which took effect Sept. 1, 2022.

The measure is expected to save more than 32 million gallons over the next 10 years and will be considered and implemented into development codes by local municipalities in 2022.

Citizens' advisory committee recommendations

A citizens' advisory committee identified additional actions to help the community achieve its current conservation goals. These recommended actions, which are under consideration by the Authority, include the following:

  • Limiting cool-season turf installation in public spaces and expediting conversion to warm-season turf in public facilities.
  • Enhancing landscape watering compliance through implementation of smart controller technology.
  • Speeding customer leak repairs through implementation of advanced metering infrastructure.
  • Encouraging efficient development and discouraging consumptive water use for new large water users.
  • Continuing to achieve reductions in water loss through infrastructure investments.

Indoor vs. Outdoor Water Use

A graphic showing how water is used in a typical southern nevada home
A graphic explaining that 60 percent of water use is outdoors
A graphic directing readers to conserve water by changing their clock, removing unused grass, and reporting water waste
Nearly all the water we use indoors in Southern Nevada is treated and returned to Lake Mead. This recycled water earns us return-flow credits, which stretches our limited water supply.
The majority of Southern Nevada’s water is used outdoors. Most of that evaporates and cannot be returned to Lake Mead.
For this reason, our conservation rebates and programs focus on reducing water use outdoors and we encourage Southern Nevadans to change their watering clocks, remove unused grass, and report water waste.