Water is one of the world's most important resources, and in desert climates, it’s even more precious, as climate change makes it hotter and drier.
The World Resources Institute recently compiled data and created a scale of “water stress” or how close an area is to draining its annual water stores in a typical year.
What may surprise you is how Nevada fared. In the medium-to-high risk category, Nevada is in line with more water plentiful states such as Kansas and Rhode Island.
Rutger Hoftse is an associate with the World Resources Institute. He said because people living in Nevada know it is an arid state they are more aware of water conservation.
“Nevada is a very arid and a very water managed state with a lot of infrastructure, transfers, a track record of droughts and a lot of worry and attention to water-related issues,” he said.
In addition, irrigated agriculture takes up 70 percent of the water withdraws around the world and that part of the water stress takes place downstream from Nevada.
Hoftse said his group wanted to come up with the water stress information because unlike something like a carbon footprint, water data can very complex and hyperlocal.
“We take complex water-related data out of the scientific universities and we process it into something that companies and governments can easily understand and make a decision relevance,” he said.
One of the most important pieces of data that the World Resources Institute compiled is baseline water stress, which is a state's or city's available water supply compared with the amount of water being taken out.
Hoftse explained that if a place is withdrawing more than 80 percent of its water supply it is considered a high-water stress area.
New Mexico and California fall into that category. Hoftse said being a high-water stress area means that when a drought hits there won't be enough water to meet all the water demands.
However, that doesn't mean nothing can be done.
“Water stress is used as a proxy," Hoftse said, "So it’s an indication of risk; however, you can, using good water management, you can manage your way out of a water stress situation,” he said.
He said one way to better manage water is looking at irrigated agriculture and irrigation efficiency.
In addition, he said communities need to look at wastewater differently.
“We recommend that people think of wastewater not as a waste but as use water and that can be a resource again," he said.
Las Vegas already recycles its wastewater and puts it back into Lake Mead, after being thoroughly treated.
Hoftse said cities and states also need to look at how to better capture and hold onto water during a wet season so it is available for use during a drought.
Reservoirs do that, but Hoftse said communities need to look at green infrastructure to turn the environment into a sponge, like using wetlands, forests to recharge groundwater.
As the climate changes, Hoftse doesn't see a bright future for Las Vegas - unless things change.
“In the year 2040, in a business as usual scenario, we expect that water supply will drop by 20 percent and that will have a major effect on the risk of having not enough water to satisfy all the water demand,” he said.
Rutger Hofste, associate, World Resources Institute
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