Water Usage in Boulder City is 2.5 Times Higher Than Clark County Average

Boulder City, NV Water Use HigherWe recently learned some information that startled us, coming in-advertently our way when we listened to an audio recording of the May 19th, SNWA (Southern Nevada Water Authority) meeting. What shocked us were two things:

  1. Boulder City’s water usage is way out of line and significantly higher per capita (2 1/2 times in fact) than the remainder of Clark County
  2. Other municipality leaders in the valley are frankly hacked-off at us for what they feel to be our snubbing our noses a bit at them for living in Clean Green Boulder City with lower utility rates, but not reducing our water usage and making the sacrifices they see themselves doing

You can listen to the meeting HERE if you wish. One of the main points of discussion at that meeting were the proposed new watering restrictions that all the golf courses in the valley will adopt come April 1, 2023. As follows:

For Possible Action: Adopt a resolution (1) supporting a reduction of golf course water budgets from 6.3 acre- feet of water annually per irrigated acre to 4.0 acre-feet of water annually per irrigated acre for all golf courses that use Colorado River water effective April 1, 2023; and (2) urging the immediate revision of applicable regulatory codes, ordinances, and policies by Authority members to effectuate the resolution. The resolution passed unanimously.

Quick math class for you: 1 acre foot of water = 325,854 gallons. The new usage standards drop the amount of water use 2.3 acre feet. This equals a total drop of (rounded) 750,000 gallons of water per year per acre of use for every golf course in the valley. (You can verify on this handy converter HERE.)

According to the City for our two municipally owned courses, right now their usage is:

  • Boulder City Municipal:  6.71 acre-feet (Based on 144.9 acres)
  • Boulder Creek:  6.00 acre-feet (Based on 212.7 acres)

We reached out to City Manager, Taylour Tedder to get the plan from him as to how they are planning to come into compliance with this by next April 1st, and he says, “City staff have been looking at options for water conservation on the golf courses before this resolution was passed. Changes such as grass removal, cross-seeding water-smart grass species, attractive desert landscaping and upgrades to irrigation systems are in the works. We’ve also been looking at using a mixture of raw water and effluent (reclaimed wastewater) on golf courses and parks. The availability of funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) will help us institute some of the needed changes in the coming months.”

Golf courses are only one portion of our water usage. But if we are indeed so far out of line with what others are doing, and that we as residents are not as aware of this as we should be, then we wanted to put the raw details in front of all of us to view.

Boulder City’s Water Allotment

Currently Boulder City has three separate water allotments totaling 18,742-acre feet of water per year:

  • 8,918′ and another at 3948′ from the SNWA (Southern Nevada Water Authority)
  • 5,876′ from the Bureau of Reclamation

For the math geeks out there (and folks, for the work ahead we’re all gonna have to try our best) that is about 6.1 billion (with a B!) gallons per year. Currently we use 57% of that, and the balance remains in the ‘pot’ that the Las Vegas Valley uses. Some would say we’re doing our fair share then, right? Or, is that really a good way to look at it?

Let’s break down exactly what we use, and where. Check out this chart below:

Boulder-City, NV -Water-Comsumption-2002-to-2020

*Source Colorado River Commission. Download HERE.

Chart notes above:

  1. This is in thousands of gallons, meaning for every number you see, add ,000
  2. Potable water is treated drinking water
  3. Raw water is untreated water piped directly from Lake Mead

If you look at this, you’ll see a few things that start to become scary obvious.

From 2002 – 2020 our overall water consumption has not dropped much at all, (11%) yet the significant drought concerns are not new, and officials have been sounding the alarm bells at least since 2010. And again, because of our growth ordinance the number of homes has remained very consistent throughout this period. Bottom line, we are not conserving water. 33.3% of the total overall annual usage comes from residential, and 35% comes from our golf courses, but they are working hard to offset that, and are using 70% of their water from raw untreated sources currently. This still comes out of our overall Lake Mead allotment, but we are not paying to treat that water, only to transport it through the River Mountain pipeline.

Here is one more chart, which is our wastewater usage in Boulder City. From the three years shown you see that this usage is very stable. Wastewater is what the entire household uses in a day: dishes, laundry, showering, sewage, and basically everything a household uses OTHER than irrigation.Boulder City , NV Wastewater

2021 Boulder City, NV Water Use Detail

2020 Boulder City, NV Water Use Detail

2019 Boulder City, NV Water Use Detail

What these numbers combine to show us is that the culprit is our landscaping outside of our homes. Ours. Residential. You and me. Not the parks and public places we love to use – but our homes. We have met the enemy folks, and it, is our lawns.

How do we compare to the greater Las Vegas Valley? This is where we start to see where some of the resentment might be coming towards us from others in the valley. We are currently using almost 2-3 times as much water per person than they are. See the below charts:

Water Use Comps 2 Years boulder City, NV

Source: SNWA, Overall numbers for Clark County, both incorporated and unincorporated areas.

To be fair here are a couple of points. By the numbers, it IS harder for us in a community with a small population to reduce our average per capita use. We love our parks and golf courses and have been blessed with a community that created them long ago, inherited from times well before water consumption was even evaluated. Now in a new era where conservation is desperately needed, we only have 16,000 souls offsetting that water usage on a per capita basis.

When you examine how the water is used in the above charts our residential water use is BELOW their percentages likely because they have a heck of a lot more homes than we do. According to Clark County’s web site, in 2020 the entire county has a total of 866,250 total housing units combined of single family homes, condo’s, apartments., etc. Boulder City makes up only 7,107 total residences of that number. And what about The Strip? Again if you look at that chart, the resorts/hotels are only 4.9% of Clark County’s total usage. Remember, this is accommodating some 40+ million visitors per year to Las Vegas and is a key driver not only of their economy, but ours too.

We have dropped our usage in Boulder City by only 11% in the past 18 years. Conversely, the rest of the valley has dropped theirs by 47% AND grown 780,000 people AND hosts all of those tourists who use their water, but are not a part of the population numbers. (Source)

All this data is public information, but in compiling this I’ve worked closely with a friend of ours, Howard Analla who is speaking to me only as an individual but is a member of our Utility Advisory Committee. He is also the retired Wastewater Operations Manager for the City of Henderson and professional Engineer with over 50 years of experience. His help has been invaluable. His take on all of this is a hard pill to swallow, saying, “There is going to need to be a sea-change in our ideas and expectations of what living in the desert looks like. We’re going to need to enjoy green grass in parks and open spaces and not at our homes.” There are many who would likely agree with him.

The Politics of Water

Oh, damn. Or Dam. It seems there is no escaping the political realities we live in, especially when we are in an election cycle that includes our local officials as well as state representatives. Water has been a hot and disputed topic for centuries and as we face a drought and the likely shortages and compromises that are going to be needed people get, prickly. Or downright mad.

Even more problematic is that any expert will tell you is that not only is the Colorado River the most litigated body of water on earth, it is also over-promised in what it can produce. It is now widely documented that unfortunately when Hoover Dam was built, and the water allocations created for Lake Mead into our area along with Arizona and California, was based on data from before 1920 that did not give correct information about available water during earlier drought conditions. The river cannot possibly produce for the American southwest what it has been tasked with. This puts our power output at risk as well as our water supply for the future.

Locally, this is not a new topic at all, and in fact we came across this older article from the Las Vegas Sun in 2003 where again, Boulder City and the greater Las Vegas valley are at odds with each other. The issue is always around growth. The valley does grow and is highly economically dependent on that. And we basically have not grown much in over 30 years. But here’s a question for you: do the residents of any one city have the right to tell another city how it should live?

Recently we’ve seen local leaders sounding off on the issues of water usage and our rights to it, how we ought to treat it, and statements made to the press sharing a variety of differing opinions.

We spoke to another learned and esteemed scientist, Dr. George Rhee a Professor of Physics and Astronomy at UNLV. He says he became passionate about climate issues when over ten years ago he realized from his point of view that we were facing a climate emergency and felt compelled to act. He said he watched with great interest and became involved heavily with Councilmen Warren Harahay and Kiernan McManus in creation of the Utility Advisory Committee. Dr. Rhee was appointed to that committee when it first formed in 2019, and served a two year term. At the June 30, 2021 City Council meeting, Dr. Rhee was nominated by Claudia Bridges for another two year term, however McManus, Adams, Folda and Hoskins did not vote for his renewal. Before the vote Dr. Rhee tells us he received a call from Mayor McManus to say that because of his views on water policy he would not be invited back to serve a new term, and apparently at the time the majority of the Council agreed.

Dr. Rhee has now started his own grass roots efforts with his Boulder City Climate Action Group where members work to spread the word and hold monthly zoom meetings.

Also, at issue has been the discussion of what Boulder City can and should do about our own wastewater treatment plant. According to the City, for calendar year 2021, Boulder City Wastewater reported 435 million gallons of inflow (sewage coming into the treatment plant) and 185 million gallons of effluent reuse (rock quarry, construction usage, etc.). The rest of the treated water (250 million gallons) was discharged into the wetlands. That’s a lot of water to just be wasting away in our desert.

In the recent past the SNWA has proposed that Boulder City send that water to Henderson for increased levels of treatment which would allow that water to be recycled back into Lake Mead. For that, Boulder City would receive additional water credits. The credits we don’t currently need, although we may in the future. But the issue for many is the waste of what could become water that is badly needed put back into that reservoir. This proposal has been adamantly opposed by Mayor McManus and others saying the motivation for Henderson and the SNWA was about growth in the Eldorado Valley. At issue is how we make use of our current wastewater. It’s been proposed that it receive additional levels of treatment to then have it be used by our golf courses. It’s a good idea, but we currently do not have the infrastructure to either treat it or transport it to the courses. It’s a task that will have to be reviewed and budgeted for and we hear it is being worked on now.

Now, we’ve picked a bit on our current Mayor but to be fair, he is not at all to blame for the current circumstances. The road to get to where we are now is paved on the backs of many of our state and national elected officials, city leadership, prior City Councils and our representatives to the SNWA, and maybe even that organization itself. Along with all of us who just didn’t get it or bother to learn or ask for the hard data. I will say I dearly wish someone would have presented specific facts to us as citizens, or maybe we just haven’t been listening. Swiveling fingers now isn’t helpful in terms of solving the issues. Which are – how DO we cut our residential water usage down in Boulder City?

An Action Plan

We as citizens are going to need to step up and make some decisions and set some priorities not only at our own homes but in the city at large. Let’s start small and go from there – our residential use. All of us should review exactly how our watering is being done and if our watering timers and amounts are in line with current guidelines. You can find them on the City’s website, HERE. New homes have all been landscaped with xeriscaping in mind. But the older homes have a lot of grassy lawns. As the SNWA says, if the only person who walks on that grass or spends any time on it is the person pushing the lawn mower, then it’s time to rethink that. They say if you use it, keep it. But if not, they have a program to help.

The Water Smart Landscape Rebate program will pay you $3/sq. foot to remove your grass. Forms and processing and all the info can be found on their site HERE. We’re in the process of doing this now and we’ve had many friends also take advantage of this program. We’ve seen some gorgeous front landscapes created in town with diverse water-friendly plants, rock-scapes, seating areas, all around their existing trees and they look fabulous. It doesn’t need to be boring single-tone rock or gravel.

And what about compliance with our existing water standards? Our Utilities Director, Joe Stubitz says that, “We don’t have a ‘water police’ like Henderson or North Las Vegas and rely on citizens policing themselves for water waste. We use the See Click Fix app and other means of community outreach to self report.” It’s up to each of us then as citizens to be good stewards to our own watering habits.

Our public parks and green areas are going to pose some unique challenges and we’re going to need to be strategic and thoughtful. Recently we’ve watched with interest some fiery debates about the need for youth and adult recreational spaces and balancing those needs with general park users and dog owners specifically. We’ve seen some good ideas out there and hopefully this matter can be sorted in a way that is good for all.

But seriously, let’s look around us and see what green spaces we might be able to do without? One such spot that seemed obvious to us is that big hill of lawn on the Bureau of Reclamation Building. But wait – according to this article HERE from the Las Vegas Sun, Boulder City residents stopped their attempts to xeriscape that lawn that is used by virtually – no one. Back in both 2004 and again in 2009 the Bureau held public meetings trying to redo that landscape and We The People stopped them from doing so simply because we like looking at that pretty green grass. Let’s remind ourselves too, that as the official government body that overseeing the distribution of water throughout the southwest – shouldn’t they be an example of what conservation can look like? We spoke with Public Affairs Officer, Patti Aaron, about that. She tells us that the Bureau is still hopeful that they will be able to change their landscaping into more efficient usage and do plan to set up public meetings about this again in the near future. According to the source above, it takes about 400,000 gallons of water in the summer to keep the grass green, but let it go dormant in the winter to save what water they can. One can hope that the next round of meetings yields a different result.

There are other parks and green spaces in town where maybe we can also compromise. Another green area that is not used much is the grass that gets watered down the length of Boulder City Pkwy towards Lake Mead that surrounds the walking/bike and flood overflow areas. That grass is not widely used – OR might that be a great spot for one of several future dog park runs in the area? When it comes to grass, the mantra might need to become – use it or lose it.

The City is firm on the point that no matter what, we cannot plant new grass for a dog park or anything else, either. We need to be creative with what we have. Evaluate what really gets used and look for even small areas of compromise that might make a difference in water usage when added up over time.

We all love grass! Rolling on it, playing on it, catching and fetching on it. The one thing we cannot afford is for us to not be talking about water conservation and how we DO that. We’re creative and smart people and as long as we listen to each other and work on realistic compromises we can certainly reduce our usage and still enjoy our beautiful Boulder City.

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