News Feature | May 18, 2016

Las Vegas Bets On Becoming The Silicon Valley Of Water Technology

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

Las Vegas is trying to become the Silicon Valley of water and that’s in large part thanks to the Southern Nevada Water Authority, one of the most forward-thinking water utilities out west.

“Las Vegas’ focus on water — and the constant pressure on its supply — has driven years’ worth of public experimentation, establishing the area’s umbrella water utility, the Southern Nevada Water Authority, as a nationally recognized leader in water quality treatment,” Politico recently reported.

“The utility boasts a state-of-the-art laboratory that produces ground-breaking research and a roster of scientists who routinely publish in major academic journals,” the report said.

The region pushed its water ambitions a step forward nearly two years ago: The water authority teamed with the state and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas to launch WaterStart, an effort to fund promising water technologies.

“Technologies, for example, to remove nitrates from well water; that use drones to measure plant stress from the air to improve irrigation precision; or, as with those nondescript listening devices stashed along the Strip, to detect leaks before they can cause millions of dollars in lost tourism revenue,” the report said.

The bigger ambition is to spark economic growth in Nevada by attracting water tech companies. WaterStart explains on its website that it wants to “make Nevada a channel for innovation by leveraging the state’s leadership and expertise in water.”

The effort could have big upsides for Nevada.

“Commercially viable companies helped by WaterStart pledge to set up shop in Las Vegas or elsewhere in the state, which over time could bring a different set of jobs to a tourism-dependent economy that has experienced dangerous downturns in recent years. In short, WaterStart amounts to a different kind of bet by Las Vegas: That as the world’s interest in water technology grows, it has a rare chance to seed an industry that will not only buttress the city against future downturns, but keep it growing,” Politico reported.

Sixteen years of drought have helped Las Vegas build an expertise on water policy. The city has tried a host of conservation measures.

Las Vegas relies on Lake Mead, an increasingly challenged water source, for 90 percent of its supply, according to The New York Times.

“By the end of June, [Lake Mead] is expected to have dropped to its lowest level since the man-made reservoir was created by the completion of the Hoover Dam in 1935. And as the elevation drops, Nevada, Arizona and California are working out a new framework for acceptable reductions in water they receive,” the Las Vegas Sun reported last week.

To read more stories about drought innovation visit Water Online’s Water Scarcity Solutions Center.