Las Vegas could save rivers' worth of water, but instead it is falling behind other Western cities in water conservation, according to a report from two conservation groups.

According to Steve Erickson of the Salt Lake-based Citizens Education Project, the findings call into question plans to pipe underground water from the Nevada-Utah border to the Las Vegas area. Conservationists and ranchers claim the water table could drop drastically, harming resources on both sides of the state boundary.

The report, "Hidden Oasis: Water Conservation and Efficiency in Las Vegas," was prepared by the Pacific Institute in Oakland, Calif., and Western Resource Advocates of Boulder, Colo.

The report concludes that "installing water-efficient fixtures and appliances could reduce current indoor water demand by 40 percent in single-family homes and nearly 30 percent in hotels and casinos."

If water-efficient landscapes were installed throughout the Las Vegas area, that could reduce the present outdoor water demand by 40 percent in single-family homes, the report adds.

"Many of these efficiency improvements can be implemented at a lower cost and with fewer social and environmental impacts than developing new water supplies," the report said. The entire report is available on the Web at pacinst.org/reports/las_vegas.

The report concludes that with the right steps, the Las Vegas area could save 86,000 acre-feet of water per year.

"We basically do science and analysis for policy purposes," said Peter H. Gleick, co-founder and president of the Pacific Institute. "We looked at the way Las Vegas uses water and their potential to reduce inefficient and wasteful uses of water."

Heather Cooley, senior research associate at the institute, said the potential water saving from homes, hotels and casinos "was equivalent to about 80,000 to 90,000 acre-feet a year."

That is a significant savings and was based on technological changes such as switching to front-end-loading clothes washers, using water-saving toilets and modern shower heads. "We looked at installing the appliances and fixtures that meet current national standards," she said.

According to Bart Miller of Western Resource Advocates, the water authority indicated "they're spending 14 times as much money in seeking out new supplies than they're spending on conservation." About 90 percent of the authority's conservation spending is on an outdoor turf replacement program, he added.

That program is called "Cash for Grass," Gleick said. The report shows that many other water-efficiency programs that have been implemented successfully by other Western cities are not pursued by Las Vegas. "They do almost nothing, for example, on indoor efficiency," Gleick said.

Erickson said the report shows that Las Vegas can tap its existing resources through conservation much more cheaply without building the controversial pipeline. Such an effort, he said, would avoid the pipeline's risks, which he said include damaging the economy, environment and people of rural Nevada and western Utah.

Scott Huntley, spokesman for the water authority, based in Las Vegas, said many people have been interpreting the report as indicating Las Vegas should not be pursuing other water sources like the pipeline. But he noted that the report itself does not make such a recommendation.

"We find the report to be very good and interesting on many aspects and actually could be very helpful to us on many aspects," he told the Deseret Morning News.

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The authority may have some marginal disagreements such as savings from indoor conservation, he said.

However, Huntley said, any interpretation of the report that the authority should "do this instead of that" is faulty, he said.

The reason for the pipeline project is that the Colorado River system is in drought, he said. Las Vegas is in a similar situation as Atlanta in that "all our eggs are in one basket," he added.

According to Huntley, the city needs to diversify its water supply. "We think conservation is important, but we can't afford not to diversify."


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