Will Las Vegas disappear?

Elena writes*

Las Vegas, USA is located in the Mojave desert and home to 650,000 people. The city is constantly facing water scarcity, which is worsened by climate change. For example, temperatures are more extreme and the water cycle is accelerating.

In 2012, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography declared a 50% likelihood of Lake Mead — the reservoir and water source next to Las Vegas — going (functionally) dry by 2021 if nothing was done to reduce water use. In 2022, Mead reached an historically low level due to droughts and overallocation.

Mead is not yet dry, but the city needs to reduce demand. An average household consumes around 0,83 m3 of water daily (220 gallons/HH). This number is high, but it’s better than before. Brelsford and Abbott report that water consumption per capita declined by 55% between 1996 and 2007, while population increased 63%. This fall in per capita use is attributed to water-efficient appliances in new houses, smaller lots (thus landscaping),  and conservation policies (raising prices and fines) attempting to change people’s behaviour.

Bottom Line: Las Vegas tries to limit its water demand, but its dependence on an unsustainable source and vulnerability to climate change puts its future survival at risk.

* Please help my Water Scarcity students by commenting on unclear analysis, alternative perspectives, better data sources, or maybe just saying something nice 🙂

Author: David Zetland

I'm a political-economist from California who now lives in Amsterdam.

One thought on “Will Las Vegas disappear?”

  1. Hey Elena,

    I think your blog post was very interesting because water scarcity is such a big problem in LV. Something I was still wondering if researchers know why mead did not go dry in 2021 although the change was 50%. Did people made slight changers in their water use, was it just luck or was the estimate by the instituted not right? And what caused the household consumption of water to decrease. I think it is very smart that in the new houses they already make changes to decrease water use like you mentioned but which other measures can be taken to reduce the water consumption of the citizens even more in the future for the old houses that are already build? Lastly you mentioned that Los Vegas is in vulnerable for climate change because of the dependence on an unsustainable watercourse (namely the reservoir). But are their any other sources available that would be possible to use and that are more available because of the location in the dessert I can also imagine that the dam is the best source available. This are just some suggestions you can maybe explore more but I already think you are writing about a very interesting subject by choosing LV and looking at the impact of water scarcity on this reservoir.

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