Can This Lake Stay Wet?

shutterstock51399265.jpgIf renowned hedge-fund wizard John Paulson is willing to pay $17 million for something, it must be a gem, right? It appears there is something good happening with Rainbow Canyon, the planned development at Lake Las Vegas that Paulson and Co. and Raintree Investment Corp. bought earlier this month. But those positive strides are tempered by the conviction some hold that Lake Las Vegas itself is one gigantic, water-logged mistake.

Paulson and Raintree’s Aug. 8 purchase of 875 acres north of the existing Lake Las Vegas development is covered by a master plan that underwent land-use revision and rezoning through the city of Henderson earlier this year. The changes in the new plan essentially shift the area from a mixed tourist-resident destination to a diverse residential community.

These changes include several that environmentalists may applaud. The former plan to raze hills around Rainbow Canyon is nixed, as is a golf course. Where hills have already been leveled, a variety of residential areas will be built—less densely overall than previously envisioned. The approximately 500 developable acres will be for homes and commercial uses—developers have also spoken with the Clark County School District about putting a school there. The balance of the land will remain open space, with trails linking Rainbow Canyon to the existing lake community, as well as the nearby River Mountains Loop Trail and Wetlands Park.

The big enviro-issue, though, is one you can’t miss: water.

“There’s the question of Lake Las Vegas itself that is filled with 3 billion acre-feet of Colorado River water,” says Rob Mrowka, ecologist and Nevada conservation advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity. “This artificial lake is taking up a significant segment of our water allocation. That whole development—with its waterfalls, golf courses, landscaping with grass—is questionable as to its place.”

He sees the whole area as a throwback to the outdated vision of turning Las Vegas into a desert oasis.

With the golf course and hotel rooms zapped from the plan, homes will be Rainbow Canyon’s main water users. The 3,500 homes the Henderson-approved master plan allows would get their water from the same source as all the other homes in the city, says Dennis Porter, director of utilities for the city of Henderson. The project would not impact Lake Mead water levels differently than would a similar size development anywhere else in the city, he says.

Meanwhile, construction at Lake Las Vegas would be subject to the same drought restrictions as all new developments in SNWA’s jurisdiction, Southern Nevada Water Authority spokesman J.C. Davis says. That means, for instance, no grass in residential front yards and only 50 percent grass in backyards. Such restrictions put the average gross water consumption of a new house at about half an acre-foot per year, most of which is captured and returned to Lake Mead.

“Because of the dramatically reduced footprint that new homes have on our community,” Davis says, “we certainly have enough in our existing Colorado River allocation for a development that size.”

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