Community-Based Water Planning in Southern Nevada

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Community-Based Planning in Southern Nevada

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Industry: Water supply

SUMMARY: Nevada is the driest state in the United States, averaging only 9.5 inches of precipitation annually. Combine that with a 1.8% legal entitlement to the Colorado River and a rapidly growing population, and the need for conservation and efficient water usage becomes essential. Rather than utilizing top-down mandates and restrictions to enforce conservation, the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) created the Integrated Resource Planning Advisory Committee to guide water resource planning for Southern Nevada. By involving business owners and developers in the decision process, SNWA incentivizes its users to conserve water and fosters a spirit of collaboration.


  • Southern Nevada's rapidly growing population creates increased demand for water.
  • The state has a limited amount of surface water available from the Colorado River.
  • Engaging the business community – small businesses in particular – can prove challenging for water managers since many of the steps needed to reduced water consumption are often perceived as expensive, or not applicable, to small operations.
  • Las Vegas needs additional housing for its expanding population, but traditional suburban development practices are water-intensive.


  • Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) created the Integrated Resource Planning Advisory Committee (IRPAC) in 1994. IRPAC is a committee composed of composed of business, community, education, environmental, and financial representatives that advises SNWA on water resource planning issues.
  • The structure of SNWA allows every potable and wastewater user in the region to have a voice on proposed conservation measures, water resources planning initiatives, and capital facility planning proposals. This consensus-based approach to water resource planning fosters political support for SNWA projects.
  • Early IRPAC recommendations focused on reducing outdoor usage in the least impactful ways, increasing utilization of Virgin and Muddy River waters, and expanding water banking operations with other states.
  • Developers of Summerlin master-planned community in Las Vegas made conservation a central theme. Grass in landscaped areas was eradicated and decorative spaces requiring water were minimized.
  • Summerlin's downtown was designed to achieve urban densities of 100 units-per-acre while existing in the center of a suburban setting. The concept of building urban nodes in new development areas (New Urbanism) is a means of accommodating increasing numbers of residents in cities in a manner that is far more resource-efficient than traditional suburbs.
  • Engaging small businesses in conservation initiatives acts to reduce water usage in two ways. Initially, business owners reduce their business operation’s consumption. In the process, they gain an appreciation for conservation. That conservation ethic is then brought back home with them, where they are apt to reduce their in-home consumption as well.


  • SNWA, following the recommendations of IRPAC, built $3 billion in capital infrastructure over 20 years to accommodate growth.
  • In the past 12 years Las Vegas has reduced its net usage of Colorado River water by 33%, even while experiencing a 25% increase in population, showing that growth does not have to be at odds with conservation.
  • Turf conversion programs implemented by SNWA were well-received in the Las Vegas community. A total of 170 million square feet of turf have been removed to date, translating to a 9-billion-gallon-per-year reduction in water use.


  • By involving the local community in water management decisions, SNWA has fostered a sense of collaboration around water issues instead of conflict.
  • By involving the business community in the development of conservation initiatives and rate structures, SNWA builds strong political support to help move measures and policies forward.


Presented at the Western Governors' Drought Forum meeting, "Drought Impacts and Solutions for Water Supply Management," held Dec. 8-9 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Learn more about the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s conservation initiatives and watch a video of this case study presentation. Or download a PDF of the case study.

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