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Las Vegas water conservation, and the Third Straw

Las Vegas is apportioned a tiny 1.8% of water from Lake Mead. However, any water it recycles and pumps back into the lake doesn’t count against the apportionment. So, Vegas recycles all indoor water, including that from toilets, and meticulously saves rain water. The whole system is carefully designed so no pumps are needed. Water flows downhill to treatment plants, into marshland for further cleaning, then back into Lake Mead.

Just to be sure, Vegas now has a third straw in Lake Mead at 860 feet. At 900 feet, no water can flow out. However Vegas will still have water to use. No one thinks it will every get that low. However Vegas is always thinking ahead on water, because it has too.

People who worry about those issues sometimes focus their scorn on Las Vegas, which appears culpable mainly because, of all the cities that draw water from the river, it lies the closest to its banks. But, in actuality, Nevada was so thinly populated when the river was divided up that its allotment is very small—just two per cent of the total—and it actually takes less than that, primarily because Las Vegas has some of most stringent water-conservation regulations in the country.

When the pumping plant for the third straw is completed, Nevada will be the only lower-basin user with the infrastructure required to draw lake water from below the level known as “dead pool”—roughly nine hundred feet above sea level, the elevation of the lowest openings in the four intake towers on the upstream side of Hoover Dam.

However, the entire Colorado River is a single system and needs to be viewed that way, especially since seven states rely on its water.

We may be citizens of a community, and a state, and a country, but we are also citizens of a basin,” [Patricia Mulroy] said. “What happens in Denver matters in L.A. What happens in Phoenix matters in Salt Lake. It’s a web, and if you cut one strand the whole thing begins to unravel. If you think there can be a winner in something like that, you are nuts. Either we all win, or we all lose. And we certainly don’t have time to go to court.”