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Las Vegas has always been a leader in water conservation, but less so with water technology.

But that’s changing as the state recruits tech companies to move here and revolutionize how we process and use water.

A company called WaterStart is heading that effort with a grant from the Governor's Office of Economic Development. WaterStart finds and funds pilot programs from start ups that will help with everything from conservation to infrastructure. 

It has helped a company that monitors pipe leaks along the Las Vegas Strip and it has also helped fund a drone company helping farmers near Winnemucca, which is in the northern part of the state, better use water to grow crops that are less water intensive.

WaterStart works with the Southern Nevada Water Authority to find technology to solve some of the agencies challenges, deputy general manager Dave Johnson told KNPR's State of Nevada.

“That’s one of the great benefits that WaterStart has been able to provide to SNWA is help us find some of these leading edge new technologies to be able to solve a specific challenge that adds value to the organization and the rate payers of SNWA,” he said.

The water authority asks employees for problems they have and then asks WaterStart to help find a business to solve that particular problem. One example is a technology company from Australia that helped the water authority manage its 600,000 water engineering drawings. The system now lets technicians in the field access those drawings through a mobile device. 

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Johnson said it has improved efficiency at the agency.

WaterStart CEO Nate Allen said while a phone app that helps water authority technicians doesn't sound like "water technology," it is because monitoring, upgrading and repairing water infrastructure is expensive and time-consuming.

Allen said it is that kind of technology that is the future of water in Nevada. Most people think of turf removal and low-flow bathroom fixtures when they think of water conservation, but Allen said that kind of "low-hanging fruit" has been taken care of and now it's time to move ahead.

“And now it’s getting into those nuances and how complex it is to fund and maintain infrastructure in order to provide safe water,” he said. 

He said providing an incentive for people to remove grass is easy, but trying to incentivize some of the other more complicated technology can be difficult. 

Daniel Gerrity is an engineering professor at UNLV. Some of his students are working with WaterStart to move technology they're creating in the lab into something that will work in the real world.

Gerrity said saving water is part of the equation, but also not using the water in the first place means more water stays in Lake Mead.

"What we have here in Las Vegas is known as return flow credits," he said. "So the more that we can send back to the lake, it basically creates a new resource for us."

He said another main focus should be cutting down on outdoor use and getting that water back in the lake.



Nate Allen, CEO, WaterStart; Dave Johnson, deputy general manager of engineering and operations, Southern Nevada Water Authority; Daniel Gerrity, engineering professor, UNLV

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KNPR's State of Nevada
KNPR's State of Nevada