Saturday, July 31

‘We live in a desert. We have to act like one ‘: Las Vegas faces the reality of the drought | Water Foundation

IInvestigator Perry Kaye hit the brakes on his government-issued vehicle to inspect the crime. “Uh oh, this doesn’t look very good. Let’s take a look, ”he said, getting out of the car to drive what has become one of the most existential violations in drought-stricken Las Vegas: a faulty sprayer.

Kaye is one of nearly 50 water waste investigators deployed by the local water authority to crack down on even the smallest misuse of a dangerously scarce liquid in the western US, dried out by two decades of drought. . The situation in Las Vegas, which happened to record 240 consecutive days without rain last year, it is becoming more severe.

Lake Mead, the vast reservoir that supplies Las Vegas with 90% of its water, has now plummeted to a record low, meaning Nevada faces the first mandatory reduction in its water supply next year. This impending cut is placing restrictions on the city that has somehow managed to thrive as a striking oasis in the Mojave Desert.

“The lake isn’t getting any more crowded right now, so we need to conserve every drop,” said Kaye, an energetic former US Air Force serviceman who wears a high-visibility vest and brandishes a badge as makes his rounds looking for rapists. He starts his shift at 4 am. “Many people think that because we are government workers, we are not there at that time, but we are out 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, every day of the year,” he said.

Kaye regularly doles out fines – starting at $ 80 and then doubling for each new violation – for the type of rule violation she has spotted in Summerlin, a wealthy Las Vegas enclave where landscapers tend to manicured grounds in the giddy heat. Water sprayed on lawns and plants is not allowed to flow off the property, but That day, a damaged sprinkler had caused water to cascade down the gutter, where the precious resource was lost.

“Look, we have a little creek or creek here,” Kaye said, as she used her phone to record the water snaking across the road. “If everyone did this, a lot of water would be wasted.”

It’s so hot in Las Vegas, the temperature this July day will exceed 40 ° C (104 ° F), that wandering water will evaporate in five minutes. Kaye placed a yellow flag next to the leak as a warning to owners, but a few taps on the computer mounted on her cruise ship show this property has a prior warning, so an $ 80 fine will be on the way.

However, there is a growing understanding that such rules (no watering between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m., none at all on Sundays) will not suffice, as Nevada is affected by a drought that has increased dangerously in 2021. In June, the state passed a law to break down “non-functional” public lawns in Las Vegas, such as lawns planted along roads or in roundabouts, over the next five years to save about 10% of the city’s water use.

Perry Kaye, a water waste investigator in Las Vegas, Nevada, issues a yellow warning flag due to a faulty sprinkler.
Perry Kaye, a water waste investigator in Las Vegas, Nevada, issues a yellow warning flag due to a faulty sprinkler. Photograph: Oliver Milman / The Guardian

“That’s a waste, the only person walking on it is the person cutting it,” Kaye said, pointing a finger at a median edge of the nearby grass. “Some people just want to recreate their home, where they grew up with grass.” The new law, along with a financial incentive given to homeowners to replace thirsty grass with more resistant desert plants and rocks, is an acknowledgment that climate change will not easily allow the imposition of a green oasis over a desert basin. completely dry.

You can never say that a city that contains a huge replica of the Eiffel Tower, sprawling golf courses and a mock Venetian canals with gondolas fits in with its surroundings. But Las Vegas, called “The Meadows” in Spanish because of its natural springs that were pumped dry In the 1960s, it is at least aware of its location in such an arid place that only a few small creosote bushes and tumbleweeds can survive here naturally.

“We live in the desert. We are the driest city in America, in the driest state in America, ”said Colby Pellegrino, deputy director of resources for the Southern Nevada Water Authority. “We have to act like one.”

Pellegrino said the recent escalation of the drought has been “very scary” for some Las Vegas residents, though he insists the water authority has planned for this time. Lake Mead’s level dropped below 1,075 feet in June, just a third of its capacity, prompting what will be the first cuts under a seven-state agreement to share water from the Colorado River, which is harnessed by the Hoover Dam to create the reservoir.

Different states get different water allocations and Nevada is a victim of its depopulated history, getting just 300,000 acre-feet of water annually (by comparison, California gets 4.4 million acre-feet) under a deal reached before it Hoover Dam was completed in the 1930s. “The joke is that the Nevada representative was drunk,” said Pellegrino, who was born in 1983, when the state’s population was just 900,000. It is now more than 3 m and receives tens of millions of tourists a year.

Homes, trees and pools sprout from the Henderson, Nevada desert.
Homes, trees and pools sprout from the Henderson, Nevada desert. Photograph: David McNew / Getty Images

This small water allocation will be reduced by 21,000 acre-feet with the new cuts, although Nevada has made impressive strides in staying below its lower limit, cutting its water use even though the population has nearly doubled since the early 2000s. 2000s. Pellegrino is confident that more savings can be made and the water used in the ubiquitous cooling systems of Las Vegas casinos is coming under scrutiny.

But the impact of global warming on western snow cover and rivers is relentless, and the city’s water savings will only go so far. “Las Vegas has done wonderful things, like uprooting the grass, but we have lost 20% of the flow of the Colorado River since 2000 and another 10% loss by 2050 is entirely possible,” said Brad Udall, a water and climate scientist. at Colorado State University whose The investigation has focused on the stresses facing the river..

“I’m worried that it might be even more than that, and that should scare everyone.”

Back in Summerlin, Perry Kaye is also relentless. A house in front of the first offender has broken sprinklers spilling water into puddles on the lawns and the road. Kaye knocks on the ornate door to inform the owner, but no one is there.

“These sprinklers haven’t popped up properly, they’re just oozing all over the place,” Kaye muttered. It has been controlling water waste for the past 16 years, issuing innumerable fines in that time. “I was hoping that I was out of a job by now. But it seems that I will retire first. “

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