This is not a graph of the water level in Lake Mead

Construction employment in Nevada. Source: St. Louis Fed

Construction employment in Nevada. Source: St. Louis Fed

This is a graph of the declining construction employment in Nevada, not the declining water levels in Lake Mead. In fact, if we were statistically clever enough, we could no doubt find a negative correlation between the two. As construction booms, more houses are built, and our friends in Vegas consume more water. Construction up, Mead down? OK, that’s rhetorically cheap, because the numerical picture is far more complex, but the underlying concept makes sense.

But does the construction collapse presage a different future trajectory for Vegas, and therefore for Nevada’s water consumption? That’s the implication of an insightful analysis by Emily Green of the Nevada legislature’s failure in its recent special session to rewrite the state’s water laws in favor of the gambling mecca’s pursuit of rural groundwater rights.

Green argues that the Nevada legislature, grappling with budget shortfalls that resulted from the collapse of the Vegas casino-construction Ponzi scheme, was in no mood to help prop back up via water law what is essentially a failed enterprise:

As legislators faced sacking teachers and shutting down social services, sending in lobbyists from the casino and construction industry to take the corner of the Southern Nevada Water Authority and unfettered growth in Las Vegas was about as clever tactically as offering scotch to someone waiting for a liver transplant.

Who in their right mind would have passed legislation designed to resume the boom while neck high in the rubble of such a spectacular bust?

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