Developing solutions out of necessity and working with leading water innovations countries such as Israel, Las Vegas has gained a reputation for America's water innovation capital
We all have a Vegas story ... and what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. But the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) realized 20 years ago that all of those stories would stop if the city of Sinatra didn't start paying attention to the story of our generation -- the story of water.
Due to its high international visibility as a tourist destination and rapidly expanding local population, Las Vegas was thrust into the spotlight when the Colorado River drought began more than a decade ago.
New Yorkers, Bostonians or even Los Angelinos may give you a blank stare when the word drought or water sustainability comes up, but the fact that Nevada as a whole is entitled to only 1.8 percent of the Colorado River's water prompted the SNWA to enact one of the nation's most aggressive and comprehensive water conservation initiatives.
The attention was quickly supplanted by a widespread curiosity. Water agencies from around the country -- and soon, from around the world -- began to inquire how a community with a reputation for such irresponsible behavior could transform itself so quickly into a model of water efficiency.
These initiatives included paying local residents not to water their lawns, giving residents T-shirts saying, "I lost my grass in Vegas" (contrary to popular opinion, most of southern Nevada's water is used by people's water usage, like to water their lawns, not on the Strip), and recycling and reusing wastewater. In fact, recycled water now accounts for roughly 40 percent of the water used in southern Nevada -- the highest percentage in the U.S.
Much of the credit goes to SNWA General Manager "water czar" Pat Mulroy, whose vision has helped create Las Vegas' water leadership, what it is said "we're part of a global economy with a population at 7 billion going to conservatively 9 billion in 40 years and we need to bring technology to bear to meet these needs."
International Collaboration: Israel National Water Company
Becoming a U.S. leader, the SNWA has cultivated mutually beneficial relationships with international agencies to identify solutions to common challenges.
None more so that Mekorot, Israel's national water company. Like the SNWA, Mekorot is considered a global leader when it comes to desalination, water reclamation, water project engineering and water safety.
SNWA and Mekorot agreed in November 2011 to share scalable solutions and scientific data toward strategic initiatives aimed at improving the quality of water for citizens.
Israel's climate, specifically Israel's Negev desert, is very similar to the harsh arid conditions of Las Vegas, and Israel, like Las Vegas, recycles a majority of its water (80 percent in Israel compared to total water reuse in the U.S., which is less than 2 percent).
Additionally, the SNWA is working closely with Mexico, which also has an allocation of Colorado River water, and several countries participate in its annual conference: Water Smart Innovations Conference and Exposition, an annual summit which has become the largest water efficiency conference in the world.
Collaboration on environmental matters is essential
With our growing population, water and our other national resources will only become more scarce. The more ways that cities, peoples and countries can partner together over improved water use, the better our shared future will be.