Las Vegas is a city isolated, a solitary oasis of gambler’s feats built on the dreams of the mobster elite. It is a place where there are few rules, “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,” a reprieve from life. Frugality is a curse word. Lewd and uncouth attractions, reckless spending and escape are allowed- a place of recess. There is no condemnation. Vive Las Vegas.
Unfortunately, Vegas is drying up faster than desert weeds after the first day of spring heat. When I refer to “drying up” I don’t mean tourism is slowing, or casinos are in the red. Quite the contrary. When I visited in April, I attended the first concert held in their brand new stadium, the T Mobile Arena. The buzz was all about the new hockey team Las Vegas would be acquiring, their first professional sports team. I chatted with the cab driver about it as we opted to roll up the windows and turn on the AC, at 9:45 am in the morning. “Yeah, we are going to get a hockey team,” he said. “That’s exciting- for some reason I always thought Vegas would get a baseball team before anything,” I answered. “Eh,” he sighed. “Will you go see the games?” I asked. “Eh. Maybe.”
Las Vegas’ cash flow is abundant. It is Lake Mead, fed by the Colorado River, which is trickling dry. Sometimes it is the most banal human needs that bring an enterprise to a halt. Lake Mead, a Colorado River reservoir, delivers Vegas and outlying areas 90% of its water supply. Water levels have gradually fallen as the city has expanded and sources have not been replenished. The springs that allowed the first settlers to reside in Vegas dried up long ago. Pipelines have been drilled to scrape the bottom of Lake Mead, before it is declared a “deadpool,” useless. The water district leans on their plans to pump water from eastern Nevada into southern Nevada, to keep the tourist business alive. 1668 days and counting, until the well is dry, or so the Las Vegas Sun claims. Will the fears come to fruition?
California, Nevada and Arizona pump from the Colorado River and Lake Mead, and like animals who share a shrinking communal drinking hole, stakes and tensions are high, but the states have been cordial in negotiations. Arizona has an underground water storage system, and have been pumping below their allowance of water. Some residents want to fill their water storage network, but thus far that has not happened. The south western communities of the United States rely heavily on the Colorado River and it’s reservoirs- the same Colorado River water in Lake Mead flows through the pipes in Los Angeles.
Conservation efforts are present, but like a child who does not understand a stove is hot until they are burned, will we really learn before it is too late? With places like Lake Las Vegas in Henderson, Nevada with an artificial, man-made lake pumped with three billion gallons of water, a tourist destination with a “touch of the Mediterranean” it’s difficult to know. The Bellagio fountains hold 22 million gallons of water according the Las Vegas Sun (although the water is pumped from a private well beneath the property, and has sensors to turn off if the wind is blowing the water wastefully away from the visually appealing attraction).
The City of Las Vegas was established in 1905, and The Golden Gate Casino and Hotel opened in 1906. From the start, the ambiance was one of entertainment and amusement. Things haven’t changed much. It is almost impossible to think of a Nevada sans Las Vegas. Las Vegas has a lot of money and wealth, there is possibility they will endure. There is also the possibility that man is asking too much of nature, that the desert ecosystem simply cannot support the influx of people and visitors, especially when the visitors expect water slides, fountain shows, lush lawns and gardens, and bars carved out of ice (despite the fact that sitting on a chair carved from ice is thrilling). Virginia City was considered a Nevada boom town in the 1870’s, and silver mining fed the city into a frenzy. The mines dried up, and people moved on. Las Vegas, a place of inordinate wealth, has plenty of money in its coffers, but what will happen when its water dries up?