Diminishing water supply is a continual threat to livability and the economic base in Southern Nevada. Since annual rainfall averages less than four inches per year, the region depends on the Colorado River – which is facing the worst drought in the river basin's recorded history – for its water supply. The region's rapid population growth has placed additional pressure on an already strained resource.
Click "Change Filter" in the above chart to view water consumption rates dating back to 1994.
Conservation efforts credited with consistent per capita water consumption declines
Southern Nevada has been a national leader in water conservation efforts over the past two decades. Policy changes, incentive programs and outreach efforts to encourage community participation have cumulatively saved more than 125 billion gallons of water the past 16 years, according to the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA).
Since the mid-1990s, per capita water consumption has dropped approximately 40 percent – from a high of 216 net gallons per capita per day (GPCD) in 1996 to 127 last year.
While the steepest declines in consumption took place in the early-2000s when water conservation measures became a regional priority, per capita consumption reductions have continued fairly consistently during the past decade.
Even as the population more than doubled, growing from 954,000 in 1994 to nearly 2.2 million today (an increase of more than 130 percent), total water consumption in the region has increased just 44 percent.
While conservation efforts have led to per capita consumption reductions, the water level of Lake Mead, which serves the source of most of our community’s drinking water, has dropped more than 130 feet since January 2000, according to SNWA. This is due to nearly two decades of drought conditions and rising temperatures, as well as over-consumption across the states that rely on its water.
In 2016, the lake’s elevation reached its lowest point since it began filling in the 1930s. As of spring 2019, Lake Mead’s water level was at approximately 1,089 feet. As recently as late 2018, the federal government was projecting a high probability that Lake Mead water levels may fall below 1,075 feet in 2020, triggering the first-ever shortage of Colorado River water and possibly reducing the amount of water available to Nevada.
However, strong snow across the western United States, especially in the Colorado mountains in early 2019 dramatically lowered the chance of a 2020 shortage.
Even with a shortage declaration likely being starved off, water conservation remains a key regional focus. Achieving further reductions in water use is a high priority for the Las Vegas community, according to SNWA.
About the data
The Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) tracks water use in the region. Water use figures and goals are translated in net gallons per capita per day (GPCD), recommended by the Integrated Resource Planning Advisory Committee (IRPAC). Net GPCD is calculated by subtracting recycled water from total system usage, then dividing it by the population served by SNWA and number of days in a year. This number includes water from all sources used by residents, visitors, and businesses served by municipal water providers. Recycled water is recovered indoor water that is treated and used for direct reuse or returned to the Colorado River system. Unlike water used indoors, water used outdoors and for cooling is lost to our water system as it cannot be treated and reused.
Note: Because different water agencies' calculation methodologies vary, comparing water efficiency between cities or regions using one metric can be challenging.
To learn more about water consumption in Southern Nevada or for additional information on the data presented above, contact Southern Nevada Strong.
Last updated: December 2018