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New Las Vegas water restrictions and mandates

27 September 2023

In this week's video, we discuss the future of water features such as the famous Bellagio fountains as the drought across the American southwest continues.

Water restrictions have officially come to Las Vegas as the drought across the American southwest continues. New federal mandates and conversation measures, along with falling water levels at Lake Mead, have some concerned about the future of water in the city.

Federal mandates were put in place after the U.S. government declared a water shortage for the Colorado River, which is the primary source of water for Las Vegas. This restricts the amount of water that Nevada can pull from Lake Mead, which is located on said river.

At the state level, there is a moratorium on ornamental water features for casinos, while residents must follow a mandatory watering schedule.

Las Vegas Governor Joseph Lombardo also gave the local water authority the power to restrict water usage in people’s homes. Not to mention, there are fees for using too much water.

Will these restrictions be enough?

The Bellagio Lake contains 22 million gallons of water, and while its certainly the most famous water feature in the city, it’s not the only one, as The Venetian Las Vegas features its gondolas on water canals, and the 130-acre Wynn Golf Club uses over 100 million gallons of water every year for irrigation.

Surprisingly though, none of that water comes from Lake Mead. Instead, it’s all ground water, pumped from private wells at the casinos and is not restricted, at least not yet.

But what about those landscaped ponds and streams at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino? Or the fountains and pools scattered about the property at Caesars Palace?

Some resorts have already started to remove these types of features, such as at the Excalibur Hotel and Casino, which replaced its water feature with rocks. As well as at New York-New York Hotel & Casino, where it removed its water feature in front of the Statue of Liberty.

So where does most of the water from Lake Mead go, if not to the casinos?

The short answer is, to the 40 million tourists like you and me. The average hotel guest in Las Vegas uses over 60 gallons of water per day by taking a shower, brushing their teeth, and flushing the toilet. Plus, what’s used to wash sheets and towels. There are also about 200,000 pools in Las Vegas each with an average of 20,000 gallons of water. And there are more than 400,000 restaurants, each using about 1,400 gallons of water per day.

Lake Mead is now at historically low levels, with the threat of a Deadpool status looming.

If or when that happens, what will mean for the aforementioned Las Vegas landmarks such as the Bellagio Lake and the future of the city as a whole?

The odds of the fountains at the Bellagio or the gondolas at The Venetian Las Vegas going away are almost non-existent, but the odds of seeing any future resorts with water features on that scale are almost zero, even if they do pump their own groundwater.

Since 1990, all new resorts in Las Vegas have been required to create and submit water conservation plans demonstrating responsible usage for everything from landscaping to guest rooms. Resorts use about seven percent of the water from Lake Mead, and many have installed low flow shower heads and faucets, changed to desert landscaping, and are asking guests to reuse towels. They also capture the water that flows down drains from showers and sinks then treat that water so it can be returned to Lake Mead. In fact, Las Vegas cleans and returns 97% of the water they take from the lake.

Given this information, could Lake Mead really run out of water?

The short answer is, it’s not likely. Not as long as the Colorado River continues to flow. Despite 1983 being the last time that Lake Mead was full and despite the fact that Deadpool status is very real, if and when the lake reaches that status, it simply means that no water is flowing downstream, which is bad news for California, Arizona and Mexico. However, it would have little, to no impact on Las Vegas. The city’s pump stations sit below water level even at Deadpool status, which means even at Deadpool status, Sin City could actually benefit with no water flowing out of Lake Mead, while the Colorado River still flows into the city.