Water Smart Living

A Desert Lifestyle Reality

Article by Patranya Bhoolsuwan

Photography by Southern Nevada Water Authority

Originally published in Red Rock City Lifestyle

When you think of Las Vegas, the term excess may come to mind with our endless options for hotels, restaurants, and (in more normal times) entertainment. But over the last 20 years, this city has also become known for what it lacks, in a big way: water.

“We are living in a historic drought. It’s serious. We have to address it, and we have been for many years” said Bronson Mack, outreach manager for Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA).

Since 1999, The SNWA has put a lot of hard work and dollars into its water conservation efforts. This has made our region a recognized leader, both nationally and internationally, as a water smart community. But Mack says there’s still a lot more work to be done.

“We have removed 197 million square feet of turf in the last 2 decades. We have offered both residents and homeowner associations rebates to promote water smart landscaping,” said Mack. “But despite all this, we still face pushbacks, including from a number of HOAs and commercial businesses that insist their residents and customers still want to see turf on their properties. And we know for a fact, for most people, that’s just not the case. Just ask yourself, do you decide where to get groceries or who to go to for your dentist based on their grass?”

SNWA hopes master planned communities like Summerlin can be an example to other communities across the valley by replacing grass streetscapes and medians with water smart landscaping. In 2003, SNWA implemented strict Water Smart conservation guidelines on a community-wide basis that limited or prohibited grass in new development. This meant that homeowners could no longer plant turf in their front yards, just in small useable areas in the backyards. Also, the community is continuing to replace older existing turf landscapes with desert friendly plant materials.

Tom Warden, Howard Hughes Corporation Senior Vice President of Community & Government Relations, serves on the SNWA’s Water Conservation Coalition. He said Summerlin needed to invest big capital on the front end in order to see the water saving benefits now and down the road.

“The core issue is we live in the driest desert in North America,” said Warden. “We have to acknowledge that as a community. And we also know that we live in a continuous drought. So, we need to work together to play our cards right and to continue to grow as a community.”

Right now, two of the key Water Smart landscaping projects underway in Summerlin are replacing decorative turf around Summerlin Parkway, which was put in back in the early 1990's, and at entrances to neighborhoods in the Paseos Village. They instead are utilizing desert landscaping which, just along the Summerlin Parkway alone, could save roughly 5 million gallons of water a year.

Part of Summerlin’s efforts to cut water usage is investing in smart irrigation controllers and taking advantage of the rebates for that technology from the SNWA. This technology can help both residents and large properties save water and money by automatically adjusting water schedules to align with the current weather.

Warden said in Summerlin South, where the smart irrigation controllers were added to the common areas, they have reduced water consumption in total by 38 million gallons.

“We think this is the future. It’s about sustainability and it’s about education,” said Warden. “Water conservation is like a master plan. It’s a living document, a living issue. It continues to evolve and every day we are making progress.”

Aside from master planned communities, the SNWA is also working with local sports celebrity, Vegas Golden Knights’ Ryan Reaves, to drive home the water conservation message. The “Reality Check” campaign has been a success since it launched in 2019. The ads feature Reaves as the “water enforcer” who uses his “hard hitting style” he’s known for on the ice to get homeowners to understand they could face big fines if they don’t follow mandatory water restrictions throughout the year.

“This campaign has done really well. The measure for us is if people are recalling the ads,” said Mack. “These ads are very short, just 15 seconds long, but people love them. They remember them and that translates into higher compliance with water restrictions.”

The public service announcements hard hitting yet friendly reminders are just in time for spring and summer when homeowners should be double checking and adjusting their watering clocks.

“Water conservation is important specifically because it’s a desert out there,” said Vegas Golden Knight and SNWA Water Enforcer Ryan Reaves. “We all need water to survive, and conserving water protects our supply, so we have the ability to use when we need to. To protect your neighbors in Summerlin and the rest of the Las Vegas Valley, please be water smart.”

According to the SNWA, based on some projections the level of Lake Mead could drop another 15 feet in 2021. Lake levels have fallen 130 feet since 2000 due to the Colorado River system facing the worst drought in the basin’s recorded history. Southern Nevada relies on the Colorado River for 90 percent of its water supply.

Despite the environmental challenge, Mack says all of us can do our part to help keep our precious water resource available for years to come. He said because of aggressive water conservation efforts over the last 2 decades, the community used 24 billion gallons less water now than back in 2002 despite a population increase of more than 700,000 people.

“The community has grown, and we are using less water today," said Mack. "That’s proof that being water smart pays off. Water smart is money smart and the water we save today can be stored for future. We currently have eight years’ worth of water reserve for Southern Nevada. And the more we compound on our practice, the more we have reliable supply for years into the future for our children and grandchildren.”

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