Some years ago, on one of my first reporting trips to Las Vegas for my book, a friend who introduced me to the fountain in front of the Bellagio Hotel suggested a bit of economics that lingered. He pointed up to the big hotel and ventured a guess at the revenue flowing through it – a rough billion dollars a year.
His idle comment turned into this fun bit of business in my book Water is For Fighting Over: and Other Myths About Water in the West:
The Bellagio’s fountain, often mocked as a symbol of water excess in the arid Southwest, may in fact represent some of the highest-value water around. The 12 million gallons a year needed to keep it topped up starts as water too salty to drink, drawn from an old well that once irrigated the Dunes Hotel golf course. Twelve million gallons sounds like a lot, but it’s really just enough to irrigate eight acres of alfalfa in the Imperial Valley. Total revenue at the seven giant casino–resort hotels contiguous to the fountain, at the corner of Flamingo Road and South Las Vegas Boulevard—the heart of the famed Las Vegas Strip—is an estimated $3.6 billion…. Given the crowds lining the sidewalks for each one of the fountain’s dancing-water shows, the fountains must represent one of the most economically productive uses of water you’ll find in the West.
I’m in Las Vegas this week the annual meeting of the Family Farm Alliance, an ag irrigation NGO. (Fascinating meeting, interesting people.) After the sessions ended, I wandered up the strip to hunt for dinner and ended up, as I often do, at the Bellagio fountain. The Friday evening crowd was swelling, and the 6 p.m. fountain show’s music was Henry Mancini’s Pink Panther Theme.