It was not that long ago that Las Vegas was contributing large sums of money to organizations trying to prevent the spread of gambling to other jurisdictions throughout the western U.S. For the most part, and as we know, they lost that fight.
But there is another fight brewing today that could be far more serious to Las Vegas and the entire state of Nevada than the spread of gambling casinos to nearby locales and that threat is water, or should we say, the loss of water. We’ve really never witnessed anything like it before but Lake Mead, which is the fresh water source for the city and large parts of the western portion of the U.S., at the lowest anyone can recall.
About 90 percent of the water consumed in Las Vegas, by its 2 million residents and more than 40 million visitors, comes from Lake Mead. However, at this time, the lake is at its lowest level since 1937, back in the tail end of the old dust bowl days. While estimates can vary, it is believed it is now at about one-third of capacity... and going down.
Most of this water is delivered to Las Vegas by the Colorado River. But according to a recent article in the Las Vegas Review Journal, “Since [the] drought hit the region in 2000, the 30-year average flow on the famously fickle [Colorado] river has dropped by 1 million acre-feet. That’s enough water to supply the entire Las Vegas Valley for four years.”
And if you think the city might be able to get water from annual rainfall, forget it. Las Vegas and most of that area of the country is part of the Mohave Desert, one of the driest areas of the country. The city normally gets just a few inches of water each year from rainfall events, with most of that evaporating almost as fast as it hits the ground.
So, how are we going to keep the fountains going at Caesars Palace? Will the Bellagio have to replace its eight-acre lake and fountains with a gravel pit? And how about all the other hotels in the city where water is treated as if it’s a never ending supply?
“Unless it can find a way to get more water from somewhere, Las Vegas is out of business,” said Tim Barnett, a climate scientologist professor with the Scrips Institution of Oceanography in California.
But if you think the city is taking this lying down, think again. There are many steps it is taking to reduce water consumption and use water more efficiently. And many of these steps can be taken in other hotels and casinos around the country to help reduce water consumption.
LAS VEGAS CONSERVES
Before we explore the steps casinos can take anywhere they are located to use water more efficiently, we should mention a couple of steps Las Vegas has already taken that rarely make it to page one. For instance, while it is true that Lake Mead is in pretty bad straits, a new pipeline may help alleviate a great deal of its water problem.
At a cost of more than $800 million, a pipeline referred to as the “Third Straw” is being built and is near completion to help deliver water from deep below Lake Mead. When completed, the Third Straw is viewed as an insurance policy to make sure the city does not run dry.
We should also note that much of the water that visitors see in Las Vegas is not consumable. For instance, the fountains at the Bellagio do not get their water from Lake Mead. Instead the display is supplied by ground water that is very high in salt content. Other hotels also get their “display” water this way.
Equally important to know is that just about every drop of water going down a drain from a hotel bedroom or public restroom in a Las Vegas hotel is being treated to near drinking-water standards and fed back into Lake Mead. Once there, it is mixed with lake water, treated once again and used as potable [drinkable] water, just like all the water that originates from the lake.
And one more thing: compared to 2002, Las Vegas water consumption has dropped—yes, dropped—by more than 32 billion gallons even as its population has increased by more than 500,000 people.
How was this water conservation accomplished you may ask? In a variety of ways, actually, many of which can be adopted by casinos anywhere in the nation:
Next to bathrooms, restrooms and kitchen areas, most of the water traditionally used in Las Vegas is for landscaping. Partnering with local government entities and taking advantage of rebates, acres and acres of lush lawns have been removed throughout The Strip and replaced with native vegetation. Referred to as xeriscaping, it involved the use of natural, drought resistant plants. This type of landscaping reduces water consumption, sometimes dramatically, and is a step that can be taken at any casino location.
But next to landscaping, traditionally more water is used in bathrooms and restrooms than anywhere else in a facility. To help address this situation, many Las Vegas properties are taking a look at what is now happening in California as of this year; the replacement of traditional toilets with dual-flush toilets—the amount of water needed is based on the presence of solid or liquid waste materials—that use less water, about 1.25 gallons per flush. This is about the limit now required by law in California, which has the strictest water restrictions in the country and below the 1.6 gallons per flush required of new toilets to meet federal standards.
Two other types of toilets that are also getting the eye and making the rounds include the following:
Pressurized and compressed-air toilets—These systems utilize compressed air to aid in flushing by propelling water into the bowl at increased velocity while at the same time using a relatively small amount of water.
Vacuum-assisted flush toilets—A variation of a conventional toilet, the fixture is connected to a vacuum system that assists a very small amount of water in flushing.
In most cases, these are new toilets that must be purchased and installed in bathrooms and restrooms. However, a rather simple and inexpensive retrofit is the use of tank inserts. Essentially, a water displacement device is placed in the storage tank of the current toilet to reduce the volume of stored water.
As for urinals, California now requires new urinals to use no more than .5 gallons per flush. This is down from one to about 1.5 gallons with a newer urinal. However, that can still be a lot of water, and what often happens with these reduced flush urinals is they start using more water over time due to use and abuse.
Another option is to select urinals that use no water at all. No water system offers three key benefits over traditional and low flow urinals:
• The water savings with a no-water urinal can be significant;
• A urinal designed to use no water costs the same or less to install as a typical water using urinal; and
• Mechanical parts are eliminated (no need for flushing devices).
Scientists, psychologists, and sociologist often talk about “adaptive action.” That’s when we take steps to address a peril that is now present or coming around the corner. It typically involves answering the following three questions, and we will do so as it pertains to water:
What? This involves gathering pertinent data. Most studies indicate we can expect more water shortages and more droughts in more areas of the country in the 21st century.
So what? In adaptive action, the data is examined to make sense of it. When it comes to water, that’s easy… no water, no life.
Now what?We take action. We have a glimpse of what’s happening now in Las Vegas. They are taking those steps because they must. Casinos and hotel properties around the country in less dire straits can take these steps to reduce costs and prepare for the possibility of a water short future.