When will America run out of water?

Las Vegas tries its hand at saving water

Christie Vanover is worried. The ranger works in Lake Mead National Park in the western United States. Lake Mead is the largest man-made lake in the United States, created by the Hoover Dam. But its water level has dropped 30 meters in the last 13 years. "So we had to extend the boat ramps in our nine recreational areas and the harbors have to move back and forth because the shoreline changes. It's expensive," explains Vanover. Not every company can afford it, the third port only recently closed.

Lack of water in the Colorado River is what causes Lake Mead to have low water levels. Dry periods, less snowfall in the Rocky Mountains and higher temperatures make the river a problem. At the same time, the thirst of farmers and megacities is growing in a total of seven US states and in Mexico. The Colorado barely manages to meet the demand. The non-governmental organization "American Rivers" recently declared it the most threatened waterway in America.

Wash mountains of towels sparingly

The Colorado in the western United States supplies 40 million people with water. Two million of them live in Las Vegas, the artificial oasis in the driest desert in North America, in the US state of Nevada. Huge hotels with thousands of beds, lush fountains and lavish pool facilities as well as lush green golf courses - in the gambling city nothing indicates that water is a precious commodity here. But behind the scenes, people are aware of the problem.

Eric Brady, President of Brady Linen, has invested $ 13 million in economical washing machines

"We're in the final stages of a $ 13 million remodel," said Eric Brady, president of Brady Linen, what it claims is Las Vegas' largest laundry, "to put in these water-saving machines that deliver 1.5 liters of water per pound Consume laundry. " With a good 450 tons of laundry a day, the company saves eight million liters of water - every day.

Reduce water costs

The towels of the hotels belonging to the MGM Resorts group are also washed by Brady's company. At MGM, energy saving and environmental awareness are part of the company concept, explains Cindy Ortega, head of the environment. For example, new showers were developed for 10,000 rooms for the newly built "City Center" facility: "They used less water per minute, less than 7.5 liters, but the guest does not notice the difference, even though the water consumption is lower than his own at home." Water-saving measures, such as intelligent air conditioning systems that automatically turn the temperature up when the guest leaves the room, can save around 190 million liters of water a year, according to the resort's information brochure. Last but not least, water saving is also a cost factor for companies.

The hotels are actually not the big water guzzlers in Las Vegas. According to the waterworks of Southern Nevada, they are responsible for only 7.7 percent of total consumption. Scott Rutledge of the Nevada Conservation League, which is committed to sustainable politics and legislation, explains: "Hotels mostly use their water indoors, so it goes down the drain and is recycled and not counted as used." Crazy, he thinks however, that there are around 40 golf courses in the greater Las Vegas area in the middle of the desert.

Controversial golf courses

Dale Hahn, of TPC Summerlin Golf Course, admits that there are probably too many golf courses in the desert city, but he also says, "We are more than just water users, we are a nature reserve and a great recreational area for our golfers."

The TPC Summerlin golf course is one of around 40 golf courses in Las Vegas

He is responsible for the maintenance of the place. The lush greenery and the idyllic lakes are artificially irrigated. This is economical, explains Dale Hahn and emphasizes that only a small part - 20 percent - of the golf course area is blasted with drinking water. The rest is so-called "gray water", i.e. wastewater from sinks and showers, which is processed and made available by the waterworks in a small system directly on the golf course. The share of golf courses in total water consumption in 2012: 6.5 percent.

Doug Bennett of the municipal water company has nothing against golf courses or hotels. After all, they bring visitors, income, and jobs to the city. "What is wasteful," says Bennett, "is using a very thirsty plant for ornamental purposes only." In other words: He and his authority have the lawn in the front gardens of the single and multi-family houses in their sights. In 2012, these households accounted for the lion's share of water consumption in Las Vegas: 60 percent. Anyone who converts their lawn into a more climate-friendly garden therefore receives money: the equivalent of a little more than twelve euros per square meter.

Environmentalists are calling for more measures

Amy Zeldenrust is one of those who made use of it. She came to Las Vegas from Ohio in 2003 and immediately replaced the lawn around her house. "I have almond, pear and fig trees, lemons and limes - it's a very Mediterranean mixture with lots of succulents, agaves, aloe, with South African plants and desert things in between," she explains.

Amy Zeldenrust grows water-saving in her garden

There is a seductive smell in her garden for which she even received an award in 2009. She still has to water it, says Zeldenrust, but nowhere near as much. She shakes her head at the sad-looking magnolia across the street and the willow in one of the neighboring gardens. Many residents have moved from the cooler east of the country and plant what they know from home, even if they are very water-intensive plants. However, she notices that more neighbors have been following her example for some time.

For environmentalists like Rob Mrowka from the Center for Biological Diversity, the whole development is going too slowly, he is calling for stricter water-saving rules. "The waterworks aim to reduce the per capita consumption of water to 753 liters a day by 2030, but that is not low enough," he says. Other cities like Tucson or Phoenix would get by with less. He is particularly upset when people sprinkle their lawn and the water runs into the gutter. And then there is the "Las Vegas Lake" in Henderson, a 130-acre artificial lake southeast of the city, fed by the water of the Colorado. His verdict: "Las Vegas is making progress, but it's not really good at saving water."

The water level in Lake Mead is low and keeps falling

However, the pressure of having to save more water could become acute very quickly. When the Colorado is low on water, the level in Lake Mead also drops. It is currently just under 337 meters. If the water level in the lake is less than 328 meters, the water abstraction agency declares a state of emergency and turns off the water in Nevada, Arizona and Mexico. They will then receive less water than they are entitled to - and than they currently use. According to the current forecast, this could happen in 2016. Las Vegas gets 90 percent of its water from Lake Mead.