The Worst-Case Scenario

A few perspectives on what the future holds for Las Vegas


“The biggest threat facing Southern Nevada is another population boom. At its current size, Vegas is stable. Double the population again, and things get real challenging.”
— Doug Kenney, director of the Western Water Policy Program at the University of Colorado

“The worst-case scenario is if we continue to have exceptional years of drought and/or we cannot take our designated allotment from the river. If this does happen—though it would be a while—we would exhaust our reservoirs. We would prohibit all outdoor irrigation, mainly grass, but allow for some trees to be watered. Trees are harder to replace; grass is easily replaced. If we did this we could survive for quite a long time on the groundwater that we have in Nevada.”
— John Hiatt, director of the Desert Wetlands Conservancy

“Long term, a Colorado River shortage, which could happen in 2016, would cut into Las Vegas’ share of the river. This would force the city to be even more efficient with the supplies it has, by cutting outdoor water use even more.”
— Brett Walton,

“We are using essentially all of the water that the Colorado River can provide, yet several states have the legal right to draw more water from the river, and, as far as I know, plan to do so. At the same time, the Southwest is one of the fastest-growing parts of the country. And on top of this, the agreements on how to distribute the water were signed during one of the wettest periods in the past 600 years, and human-caused climate change is likely to reduce the water available. Obviously this is not a sustainable situation. My belief is that when these problems with water supply come to a head … there will be enough political will generated to come to a new agreement on how to distribute the water, one that takes better account of all these different factors.”
— David W. Pierce, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego

“The thing that concerns water managers is we know from the paleohydrology on the Colorado River that it goes through 30-to-50-year droughts. That’s well established. We need to be prepared for that, and the climate-change data we’re seeing is affecting the snow pack in the Rocky Mountains—not so much the amount, but the March-April temperatures in the Rockies are getting warmer and going directly from solid to gaseous rather than melting off as water in the river stream. The scary part is seeing droughts and climate change coupled.”
— John Entsminger, SNWA general manager

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