Running Out of Water in Las Vegas

Running Out of WaterLas Vegas is in the middle of a water crisis, essentially they are running out of water.  Las Vegas gets 90% of its water from Lake Mead, the reservoir created by the Hoover Dam, one of man’s greatest industrial achievements.  In the last 10 years Lake Mead has dropped 15 feet. There are two “straws” that draw water to Vegas from Lake Mead, at 1,050 feet and 1,000 feet. The first straw should run dry within a year and Lake Mead will provide no water by 2036 without drastic changes. A new intake pipe is being installed at a cost of 850 million to tap Lake Mead at the 860′ level.

This decrease in water level also effects the Hoover Dam power plants.  With reduced inventory, the flow of water is reduced and the turbines can not work at capacity.  The turbines are already at reduced power, and officially when the water level drops below 1,050 feet administrative controls will stop the plant from running. Although these controls are scheduled to be lowered to 950 feet, the result is the same, less water stored equals less total power generated.

Las Vegas is doing a lot to curb water usage.  A lot of the water used on the strip is recycled and the city is paying people to get rid of lawns.  Yes lawns. Lawns that EXIST in the middle of the desert.  I’m actually shocked that lawns haven’t been outlawed in Vegas, or at least made to be prohibitively expensive. A large part of the problem has to do with the massive population increase in Las Vegas in the past decade.

With all of the talk about a drought and Lake Meade going dry, I bet water bills have to be high, I would assume well over $100 a month for a typical family.  What? only $1.16 per thousand gallons?  I used to pay over 4 TIMES that amount and I live next to one of the largest supplies of fresh water on Earth! Rates in Benton Charter Township on the shores of Lake Michigan are $3.73 per 100 cubic feet, which is 748 gallons. This equates to $4.99 per 1,000 gallons.

If Las Vegas is serious about water conservation and stopping the depletion of Lake Mead, the citizens and businesses of Las Vegas will have to pay for their water, and this will trigger a reduction in demand. Las Vegas does have a tier system in which people who use more water have to pay a higher rate, but the tiers are large and don’t step up the price nearly enough. It makes little sense when faced with a drought and a quickly depleting supply of water to keep prices so low.

Some ways to reduce water usage:

  • Don’t water the lawn!
  • 5 minute showers, not til the hot water tank is empty
  • turn off water while brushing teeth
  • collect rainwater (if legally allowed to) for watering plants.
  • Use water efficient appliances.  Newer washers use a fraction of what older washers do
  • Replace the guts in a running toilet, a $15 fix can save thousands of gallons of water a week
  • Periodically check your plumbing system for leaks.

Allocation of scare resources is the basis of economics.  If the demand is high and the supply is reducing at an alarming rate, the price of the product must go up.  If people don’t “feel the pain” when watering their lawn or taking an hour long shower, then the water reserves will continue their decline.

What are your thoughts on a city of over a million people in the middle of the desert running out of water?

John C. started Action Economics in 2013 as a way to gain more knowledge on personal financial planning and to share that knowledge with others. Action Economics focuses on paying off the house, reducing taxes, and building wealth. John is the author of the book For My Children's Children: A Practical Guide For Building Generational Wealth.

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