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.
Source: Southern Nevada Water Authority
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 130 billion gallons of water over the past two decades, according to the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA). Since the mid-1990s, per capita water consumption has dropped approximately 56 percent – from a high of 229 net gallons per capita per day (GPCD) in 1996 to 101 in 2019.
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, hitting their lowest levels in 2019. Even as the population more than doubled, growing from 954,000 in 1994 to nearly 3 million today (an increase of nearly 140 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 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 likelihood of a 2020 shortage.
Even with a shortage declaration likely being starved off in the immediate near term, water conservation remains a key regional focus, as federal forecasts still indicate an approximate 4 to 43 percent probability of shortage in years 2021-2024. Achieving further reductions in water use is a high priority for the Las Vegas community, according to SNWA.