When it comes to water leadership, the forces at work in Las Vegas are running directly opposite of the tourism slogan that of late has helped entice more than 42 million people to visit annually. An entire community has sprung up that is on a mission to make Las Vegas the hub from which water innovation, technology and solutions will emanate in order to serve regional, national and even global needs. In other words, they want what is happening in Vegas to do anything but stay there.
For sure, early settlers weren’t drawn to Las Vegas by neon lights and digital poker – instead, the lure was water, an artesian spring. Fast-forward 175 years, and you’ll find Las Vegas residents and visitors living it up while the city remains by far the driest in the U.S., receiving just 4 inches of rainfall per year – compared to Dallas, for example, receiving 37 inches annually, or NYC getting 50. Moreover, Las Vegas has been at drought status for 16 years. Adding to the strain on water resources is a surging population which has grown by approximately 1/2 million people since the turn of this century… and a burgeoning tourist industry consuming, on average, 7.5 million gallons of water per day for the infamous Las Vegas Strip alone.
So, I think it’s safe to say, necessity was certainly the “mother” of a great deal of water reuse, recycle and conservation inventions in Las Vegas. As this article shares, the City has done quite an impressive job utilizing everything from lawn “buy back” programs to indoor water treatment programs to help better the situation.
However, lack of water is only one of the key “necessities” spawning Las Vegas and the Southern Nevada region’s emergence as a water leader. The other is tied to the impact of the Great Recession of the late 2000s on a city that today enjoys approximately $24.6 billion in revenue annually. The strained budgets of the recession shook the discretionary foundation of Las Vegas. Leaders got to work looking for a back-up economy for the Las Vegas region. That hero, you guessed it, was water!
What’s so interesting and inspiring about Las Vegas as a water hub is WaterStart – an initiative focused not just on innovating solutions but creating a new and more viable water culture. In addition to generating jobs, attracting business and helping keep water levels sufficient to meet the needs of Las Vegas, WaterStart is considered an incubator or start-up accelerator. It recognizes that a myriad of ideas and innovations are out there that don’t make it past the abyss between the lab and real-life use. So, WaterStart works to help take viable ideas to those first critical customers that can then lead to more widespread adoption.
WaterStart also is devoted to its members – ranging from utilities and businesses like MGM Resorts International to innovators and farmers – working together in order to define needs and develop, vet and test specific water technologies and processes. That is, they are less about saying, “here’s a solution you need” and more about saying asking “what’s your specific water challenge,” getting to work on a solution, testing it, then making it available one customer at a time.
WaterStart is just one of a number of “water clusters” being tracked by the USEPA (https://www.epa.gov/clusters-program) that is driving innovation into their localities. While I’ve only touched on the many fascinating and layers to WaterStart, “Las Vegas in Betting It Can Become the Silicon Valley of Water” offers more fascinating insights on its background, philosophies and dynamics. I look forward to following its progress and experiencing the innovation that doesn’t stay in Vegas!