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Waterparks and fountains in Las Vegas: A closer look at where water is going amid the drought

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Posted at 7:28 PM, Jul 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-16 19:28:48-04

LAS VEGAS (KTNV) -- Despite being in the midst of the longest sustained drought we've ever seen, and on the verge of a federally declared water shortage, every day in Las Vegas water is used for play.

The valley is home to not one but two waterparks. Cowabunga Bay and Wet'n'Wild provide relief from the sweltering heat for hundreds of thousands of locals and tourists every summer.

And it's not just mega-slides and lazy rivers where we get our water fix. Water plays a recreational role on the Las Vegas Strip, too. Many casinos have multiple pools or fountains, perhaps the most obvious and grandiose example being at the Bellagio.

So, are we being flippant and wasteful? Isn't Lake Mead's water level at its lowest point since the dam was created in the 1930s? The answer to the latter is yes, but the first question is not what it seems on the surface.

LAS VEGAS' BIG ADVANTAGE

Las Vegas has a luxury that so many other cities do not: we are close to our water source.

Being physically close to Lake Mead -- one of the Colorado River's primary water storage reservoirs and our largest source of water locally by far -- allows us to recycle much of our water back into the lake after it's used.

DROUGHT CRISIS | More stories about drought's impact in Las Vegas area, nationally

The Southern Nevada Water Authority says 40% of the region's water is used indoors, and all of that indoor-use water is captured, treated and returned.

Las Vegas, Henderson, North Las Vegas, Boulder City and the Clark County Water Reclamation District each operate wastewater treatment facilities to assist with this.

WHAT ABOUT WATERPARKS, POOLS, FOUNTAINS?

Outdoor water use is a different story.

60% of the water delivered by the water authority cannot be recycled, and that water is primarily used for landscape irrigation and cooling. But companies can, and do, reuse the water that fills their pools and fountains.

"It keeps our costs down because the more freshwater we have to put in, the more it costs us in chemicals,” explained Chris Norman, who is in charge of maintenance at Cowabunga Bay in Henderson.

“The more water we can retain and balance properly for our guests, it helps everybody out in the long run," he added.

Norman says the pool water at Cowabunga Bay is filtering 24 hours a day and the park hangs on to all of that water, with the exception of backwash cycles.

"You might say we retain as much as we can,” he said.

The park also saves irrigation for the overnight hours when the sun can't evaporate the water before the plants can absorb it.

“We use a lot of drip pipes so the water is going directly to the plants that need it and not the dirt,” added Norman.

13 Action News asked the park how much water is used during a typical summer month and annually, and it said it didn't have that information immediately available. Check back for updates.

In the meantime, authorities with the SNWA have made it pretty clear that water usage on the Las Vegas Strip and at waterparks is not nearly a threat to conservation efforts as something much more common and yet much less obvious.

THE WATER-WASTER HIDING IN PLAIN VIEW

If proximity to Lake Mead is our secret weapon, grass is our kryptonite.

Specifically, non-functional grass. The kind of grass you might see while driving on the highway, used for decorative purposes and only ever touched by the person who mows it and keeps it looking pristine.

Bronson Mack, a spokesperson with the water authority, told 13 Action News earlier this year that there are about 5,000 acres of non-functional turf in Southern Nevada. He says that turf absorbs about 12 billion gallons of water every year.

But, not forever. It's also the kind of grass that was recently banned for decorative use at office parks, entrances to housing developments and street medians.

Gov. Steve Sisolak signed legislation back in June making Nevada the first state in the country to ban certain kinds of grass.

The law will take effect in 2027 and does not apply to homes or parks.

STAYING DILIGENT ABOUT CONSERVATION

In the water authority's 2020 Water Resource Plan, the highest reported use for water was for residential purposes.

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A Municipal Metered Use (2019) chart as featured in the Southern Nevada Water Authority's 2020 Water Resource Plan.

Officials say water conservation is vital for Las Vegas' future, but conserving water doesn't have to mean shutting down waterparks.

The message, rather, is that water recreation is part of the reason why we conserve.

When Las Vegas is in triple-digit heat on a summer day, let's say on a day when it's 117°outside, jumping cannon ball-style into a swimming pool can make the heat a bit more bearable.

And then covering that swimming pool when it's no longer in use can save water from evaporating and becoming part of the 60% of water lost, helping to stretch out our resources for the next record-hot day.

This story originally reported by Amy Abdelsayed on KTNV.com.

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