Las Vegas Plugs the Drain on Water Resources

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Even with its fountains and water parks, Las Vegas hotels and attractions account for less than 8 percent of the city's annual water consumption. Photo: Flickr/woosh2007

Even with its fountains and water parks, Las Vegas hotels and attractions account for less than 8 percent of the city’s annual water consumption. Photo: Flickr/woosh2007

It’s no surprise that Las Vegas has a water shortage. After all, the city does sit in the middle of a desert and, like much of the western U.S., has struggled with drought conditions for more than a decade. And while features such as the Mandalay Bay Beach water park and the spectacular dancing fountains at the Bellagio may make it appear that Sin City is squandering its supply, Vegas is working on becoming a model for effective water conservation.

In fact, the hotels play a relatively small role in water consumption, accounting for just 7.7 percent of water usage. Most of the water — some 60 percent of it in 2012 — is used residentially, and the city continues working to reduce residential consumption.

In 2003, the Las Vegas Valley Water District introduced an innovative program that rewards residents for removing their water-thirsty lawns and turning them into smart yards that demand less maintenance. Homeowners get up to $1.50 per square foot for every bit of grass they replace with xeriscaping, as well as benefit from lower water bills.

In 10 years, the water district has removed nearly 166 million square feet of grass from residences and businesses. When homeowners agree to the rebate plan, they sign a deed restriction so that if the property is sold, grass can’t be reinstalled unless the new owner pays back the rebate — with interest.

During the past decade, the city has saved an estimated 9.2 billion gallons of water that would have gone toward watering grass. The idea is now being tested in parts of California.