Research and Economic Development, Office of


Date of this Version



Published in: Future of Water for Food: Proceedings of the Future of Water for Food Conference Held at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, May 3-5, 2009. University of Nebraska–Lincoln Office of Research and Economic Development (2009). Copyright © 2009, The Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska.


“We Americans are spoiled. Turn on the tap and out comes a limitless supply of high-quality water for less money than we pay for cell phone service or for cable television. We think of water as though it were like air, infinite and inexhaustible, when, in fact, water is very finite and very exhaustible. The United States is now facing a water crisis,” Robert Glennon said. “How can water be exhausted when water cannot be created or destroyed?” he asked. His answer: Some uses preclude the use of water by future generations. Every time a toilet is flushed in Los Angeles, as much as six gallons of water ends up in the Pacific Ocean. That water is not destroyed, but it is no longer where it’s needed, when it’s needed and in the form it’s needed.

Components of the U.S. water crisis. A major component of the water crisis is that (in some areas), the demand for water is completely out of proportion with the supply. The city of Las Vegas personifies this situation. CityCenter is one of Las Vegas’ latest developments. Costing $9.1 billion, it is the largest privately financed construction project in American history and includes six or seven towers from 37 to 61 stories tall. The problem is that Las Vegas is running out of water. Patricia Mulroy, director of the Las Vegas Water Authority, has to scramble for water. To get water for the city she has offered to build a desalination plant on the Pacific Ocean for the cities of Tijuana, Mexico, and San Diego in exchange for some of their share of Colorado River water, which Las Vegas could access through Lake Mead. A $3 billion, 150- to 200-mile pipeline also will be built in central Nevada to pump groundwater and move it south to Las Vegas. Mulroy also is paying people in Las Vegas as much as $2 dollars per square foot to remove their lawns and has aired public service announcements encouraging water conservation. How can she justify the expense of these projects? Las Vegas’ strip is the economic driver of the entire state but only consumes 3 percent of the total water used in the state. Agriculture is responsible for 80 percent of the water used in Nevada but produces only 6,000 jobs, the same number of jobs as an average-sized Las Vegas casino. Glennon said for Mulroy, it is a simple matter of dollars and cents.