News Feature | December 5, 2018

Vegas Planners Prep For 'Doomsday' On Colorado River

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

Las Vegas water planners are prepping for a harrowing possibility: The disappearance of the Colorado River.

The river currently flows beyond the Hoover Dam to Arizona, California, and Mexico, according to The Nevada Independent.

“It is hard to fathom, but there is a possible future in which this section of the river — the source of water for millions of Americans from farmers in the Imperial Valley to residents of Phoenix — could dry to a trickle,” the report stated.

This is a “doomsday” scenario that remains a long way off, the report stated. Yet planners are considering the option, nevertheless.

“Without cutbacks to water use across the Southwest, it could one day play itself out, especially under drier hydrologic conditions driven by climate change. And it’s scary enough for Las Vegas...that the city has been spending big money to hedge its bets,” the report states.

The Las Vegas Valley sources about 90 percent of its water from the Colorado River, according to the Las Vegas Valley Water District.

Jonathan Overpeck, a dean at the University of Michigan’s environmental school and a Colorado River researcher, explained efforts that are already underway.

“You have a lot of people in Vegas who are very good at making bets,” he stated, per the report. “[The Southern Nevada Water Authority] is making a bet that it should spend $1.3 billion so that it can get [it’s full allocation], even at dead pool. So I would say that it is a possibility, then.”

Deadpool is the point at which it would be impossible to release water from the dam into the river, the report said.

Yet even under deadpool conditions, water will make its way to Vegas, according to the report. Contractors are currently working on a pumping station to prepare for the deadpool scenario.

“Experts who study Colorado River politics have said that the infrastructure project has changed Las Vegas from one of the least secure cities on the river to one of the most secure cities. When it is completed in 2020, Las Vegas would be the only water user in the lower Colorado River basin that could get water under dead pool conditions,” the report stated.

Meanwhile, Arizona is reportedly making progress on a drought plan for the Colorado River.

“Arizona says it's one step closer to figuring out how to divvy up water cuts as the supply from the Colorado River becomes more limited. Several Western states that rely on the river are working on drought plans. The federal government wants them done by the end of the year,” the Associated Press reported.