Drought. Water shortages. Scary to contemplate, but is it as serious as all that?

Whenever we get half an inch of rain here in Southern Nevada, at least one savant’s bound to say – ‘this means the drought isn’t a concern’.

Wouldn’t it be great if all it took to solve our water difficulties were a half inch of rain? A couple of heavy drizzles could end the drought! We wish it were that easy, but the drought’s not showing any signs of improvement. In a normal year, rainfall in Southern Nevada’s about four and a quarter inches. According to the National Weather Service, in all of 2014, Las Vegas had an official rain total of 1.81 inches. That’d barely wet a washcloth, much less fill our reservoir.

No, drought is definitely still an issue.

Anyone who’s looked at Lake Mead in the past ten years can’t have missed the big white bathtub ring around the perimeter. That’s not a decorative element. It indicates just how far the lake’s gone down from its high water mark. According to Lake Mead water data.com, the lake’s currently 132 feet below full, which means it’s at 41% of capacity. That’s a lot of water we don’t have, especially when you consider - only about 1% of the Earth’s water’s available for drinking. The rest is salt water or frozen in the Arctic and Antarctica. Sadly, part of that puny 1% is too polluted to drink.

Support comes from

On the up side: For the thousands of years people’ve lived in the Mojave Desert, they’ve had to stretch their limited supply. Now, however, this area has about 2,000,000 residents, most of whom rely on Lake Mead for drinking, washing or cooking. Our water conservation is commendable – we don’t have so many lawns as we once did, we’re growing desert plants, we don’t let the water run while we’re brushing our teeth or doing dishes. 

A few years ago, we were consuming well over 400,000 gallons per person per year; now it’s less than 300,000.

Over the past 13 years, local residents decreased water use by about 40% per person.

On average, Southern Nevadans use about 124 gallons per day per person. For comparison, that’s just about the same amount as New York City, which gets rainfall on a regular basis and doesn’t have a lot of private landscapes to irrigate.  We’ve shown great stewardship, but even this isn’t enough to cure a drought affecting the entire western US.

No single action can do that, but many small efforts can combine to create a larger effect. I think we all agree - finding more and better ways to deal with the drought is in our own best interests. It’s not only us; when you look at other places around the world, you can see how and why drought is such a big deal –the whole planet’s facing drought, so we can’t just find new supply.

We could be a model for the rest of the world as it dries. We’ve shown you can live in the desert, while treating water like the precious commodity it is.

Some things we can’t do. We won’t increase the snow pack in the Colorado Rockies, and Global Warming means we’re definitely not going to see a lot more rainfall in the Mojave. Unless we’re farmers, we can’t fix bad irrigation practices.

How can we stretch every cup of water coming from the lake better than we are already? We gardeners can do water-conserving things that might not be so obvious.

We can be better at keeping down evaporation from the soil. Providing shade to the garden lowers the temperature, which lowers water loss. Mulch not only makes a landscape look more unified and keeps down weeds, it also conserves water. Finally, improving the soil with compost makes it more fertile, and allows it to hold water without making it soggy.

For KNPR’s Desert Bloom, this is Dr. Angela O’Callaghan of the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.

Don't miss Angela O'Callaghan's “Gardening Smarter as We Mature” series which teaches how to garden more easily as the body changes and ages.

These free classes are offered at the Cooperative Extension office (8050 Paradise Road). The next session will be on April 8; the last will be on May 14. Both run from at 10 am to noon.

The classes are taught by Health, Nutrition and Exercise Physiology Specialist Anne Lindsay and Social Horticulture Specialist Angela O’Callaghan. They will focus on the biomechanics of the body, covering gross and fine motor skills, core strengthening, cardiovascular health, strength and endurance. Participants will learn practical gardening applications, such as simplifying gardening life, prioritizing tasks, using ergonomically designed tools and lower-maintenance plants, and gardening in raised beds.


Desert Bloom
May 28, 2002

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