Pat Mulroy on How Vegas Plans to Do It: Desal, Baby!

Pat Mulroy on how Las Vegas (Nevada) plans to meet its long term water needs – desal! I know, I know, you’re saying, “But don’t you have to be by, like, an ocean or something?” Here’s the scheme: build big desal plant down on the Gulf of California, give that water to Mexico to meet their entitlement to the pittance of the Colorado that’s legally theirs, and let Vegas (and whoever else shared the cost of building the plant – some folks in Arizona also like the idea) use the water that would otherwise have gone to Mexico:

By 2020 I think we will have developed partnerships with Mexican entities for desalination plants and exchanging water on the Colorado River.

As far as the pipeline to bring water from Northern Nevada to Southern Nevada, you tell me what the hydrology in the Snake Valley Basin looks like in 2020 and I’ll tell you if we’re going there. If Southern Nevada has to fend for itself, I think we’ll have no choice but to develop that water supply. We can’t desalt our way out of this problem; the solution has to be larger and more dramatic.

As long as water supplies on the Colorado River stay relatively stable, Southern Nevada has lots of opportunities for water exchanges and desalination. But if climate scientists’ worst-case scenario on the Colorado River were to materialize and lake levels were to drop significantly, this conversation would change dramatically.

(Note to non-New Mexico readers: We have a “Las Vegas” in New Mexico, a lovely little down on the east slope of the Sangre de Cristo mountains. Hence my habit of clarifying which Vegas I’m talking about.)


  1. According to Shaun McKinnon’s Arizona Republic reporting, the Yuma desalting plant water costs $466 per acre foot. Carlsbad, Calif., is building a plant which they’ve claimed can produce water for about $1,000 per acre foot, though questions have been raised about whether it’s really going to cost a lot more. Inland desal in Texas has been priced at $400 to $800 per acre foot.

    Not sure about Vegas’s big pipe project.

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