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Bathtub ring at Lake Mead shows impact of drought and how much water we've lost.

Drought and conservation measures

The Las Vegas Valley gets about 90 percent of its water from the Colorado River, which is facing the worst drought in the river basin's recorded history. The water level of Lake Mead, which serves the source of most of our community’s drinking water, has dropped more than 130 feet since January 2000.

Lake Mead's low water levels have prompted the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to issue a water shortage declaration, which will reduce the amount of water Southern Nevada will be allowed to withdraw from the lake beginning in January 2022.

Combined with existing water reductions outlined in the Drought Contingency Plan, the declared shortage will cut Southern Nevada’s annual water allocation by nearly 7 billion gallons (21,000 acre-feet) in 2022 – enough to serve about 45,000 valley households for a year. Should Lake Mead's water level continue to decline, additional cuts will follow.

Water conservation efforts

This historic drought began in the early 2000s. In 2002, the Colorado River experienced its lowest recorded flows on record. That same year, Southern Nevada used more water than it ever had before. Recognizing the need to reduce water use, this community embraced and implemented the most progressive and comprehensive water conservation program in the nation.

As a Southern Nevada Water Authority member agency, the Water District adopted mandatory conservation measures, including seasonal watering restrictions, golf course water budgets, a grass replacement program, water waste penalties, and changes to municipal codes that significantly reduced the impact of new development on our water supply.

Thanks largely to the adoption of water conservation measures in 2003, conservation efforts in the Las Vegas Valley have helped reduce the community’s Colorado River consumption. The community used 23 billion gallons less water in 2020 than in 2002, despite a population increase of more than 780,000 residents during that time. This represents a 47 percent decline in the community’s per capita water use since 2002.

Recently, the Nevada Legislature passed a law prohibiting the use of Colorado River water to irrigate nearly 4,000 acres of unused, decorative grass in our valley by the end of 2026. This is grass in medians, roundabouts, business centers, HOA entrances and bordering parking lots and streets. This decorative grass consumes about 10 percent of our annual water supply—more water than is consumed by the entire Las Vegas Strip. This initiative will save nearly 9.5 billion gallons (30,000 acre-feet) of water annually and help our community manage Colorado River shortage conditions.

With no end to the drought in sight, however, achieving further reductions in water use has taken on a new sense of urgency for the Las Vegas community.

What you can do

As a resident or business owner, you can help safeguard our community’s drinking water supply by:

What does a federal water shortage on the Colorado River mean for Las Vegas?

We're facing tough water challenges in our valley—and they're about to get tougher. The federal government has declared a water shortage on the Colorado River, our primary source of drinking water. SNWA and LVVWD General Manager John Entsminger explains what this means to Southern Nevada.

Cause of the drought

Snowmelt and precipitation in the Colorado Rocky Mountains feed the Colorado River, which flows into Lake Mead.

The Rocky Mountains have had below-average snowfall for several years, decreasing the amount of runoff into the Colorado River.

Lake Mead is more than three trillion gallons below capacity.

It will take many years of above-normal runoff in the Rocky Mountains before Lake Mead's water level returns to the level before the drought began.

Drought contingency plan

As part of an agreement with the federal government and the other Colorado River Basin states, Southern Nevada’s Colorado River water supplies were reduced by 3 percent beginning in 2020 due to low water levels in Lake Mead.

Under the Lower Basin Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan, Nevada, Arizona, California and Mexico reduced the amount of water diverted from the Colorado River to reduce risks from ongoing drought.

The amount of water available to Nevada will be further reduced by another nearly 7 billion gallons (21,000 acre-feet) in 2022 in accordance with the federal government’s August 2021 declaration of a shortage along the Colorado River.

Limits on planting turf

Before you plant grass, make sure you're following county or city turf limitation codes. Turf limits restrict or prohibit the amount of grass that can be planted at new properties.

City of Las Vegas turf limits

Single-family homes

No new turf allowed in front yards. Fifty percent of side and rear yards or 100 square feet, whichever is greater, may be grass (maximum of 5,000 square feet).

Multifamily (condos, apartments)

Turf prohibited in common areas or front yards except for privately-owned parks with an area greater than 10 feet.

Non-residential development

New turf prohibited, except by special permit. Does not apply to schools, parks or cemeteries.

Golf courses

Limited to 5 acres average per hole, with a maximum 10 additional acres for driving ranges. Golf Courses are subject to a water budget.

Clark County turf limits

Single-family homes

No new turf allowed in front yards. Fifty percent of turf in side and rear yard or 100 square feet, whichever is greater, may be grass (maximum of 5,000 square feet).

Multifamily (condos, apartments)

New turf prohibited in common areas or front yards except for privately-owned parks with an area greater than 10 feet.

Non-residential development

New turf prohibited, except for major schools, parks or cemeteries.

Golf courses

Limited to a maximum of 45 acres for 18 holes and 5 acres for driving ranges.

Convert your grass to water-smart landscaping

If you'd like to get rid of existing turf, sign up for the Southern Nevada Water Authority's Water Smart Landscapes program. You could qualify for a rebate for grass converted to water-smart landscaping. You must contact the Water Authority before you begin your conversion to qualify.

Swimming pools

Public and private swimming pools are not currently subject to conservation measures. When pool water is managed efficiently, swimming pools actually use less water than grass covering the same area.

All pool water must be properly drained into the sanitary sewer when the public sanitary sewer is available. Allowing pool water to drain into streets, sidewalks or storm drains is a violation of city and county ordinances and Water District water waste policies. Violations could result in a water waste fee on your bill. Learn the lawful way to drain your pool.

Fountains and water features

City and county ordinances restrict the use of water to fill or refill man-made lakes and decorative water features.

What is allowed and what is restricted

Residential fountains

Fountains and water features with a surface area of 25 square feet or less are allowed.

Fountains in residential common areas

Same as residential fountains, but the water feature cannot be incorporated into an entryway or streetscape, as defined by local government.

Non-residential fountains and re-circulating water

A fountain may maintain a re-circulating water pool to sustain pumps, pond liners, surface coatings and ancillary equipment.

Man-made lakes

A man-made lake with more than one acre of surface area comprised all or in part of water delivered by the Water District will pay the same rate as metered construction water for fill water (see Chapter 7 of the Water District Service Rules). Lakes that serve as a functional reservoir for a golf course are included in the calculation of a golf course water budget.

Water feature contacts

The service area of most Water District accounts are located in the City of Las Vegas or Clark County. Other contact numbers are provided for convenience.

Misting systems

Residential mist cooling systems are allowed with no restrictions. Commercial misting system use is restricted for human comfort and allowed only during the months of May, June, July, and August.

Washing your vehicle

Personal vehicles may be washed at home using a hose with positive shut-off nozzle. However, the Water District recommends use of a commercial or self-serve car wash where water is captured to the sanitary sewer, which allows for recycling. Or, use a high-pressure, low-volume sprayer to maximize water savings.

Personal vehicles

Car washing is limited to once a week per vehicle using a hose with positive shut-off nozzle.

Commercial vehicles

Wash commercial vehicles only at a facility where water is discharged to the sanitary sewer through approved methods. Or, wash with a high-pressure, low-volume sprayer using less than 10 gallons per vehicle. There is no limitation on frequency.

Mobile car washes

Mobile car washes are allowed as long as the company uses high-pressure, low-volume equipment and uses less than 10 gallons of water per vehicle.

Car wash coupons

The Southern Nevada Water Authority offers car wash coupons online. A water-smart car wash recycles the water on site or drains it to the sanitary sewer, helping protect our water supply.

Washing surfaces, equipment, and buildings

Surface, equipment, and building washing is prohibited unless water is discharged to the sanitary sewer through approved methods or contained on site.

Golf courses

New golf courses

Water from the Colorado River may not be used at new golf courses built in Las Vegas or unincorporated Clark County after Nov. 2, 2021. This prohibition was added to the Las Vegas Valley Water District's Service Rules after being approved by the Water District's Board of Directors.

The rule applies to both potable and nonpotable water.

The average golf course in Southern Nevada consumes about 725 acre-feet of water each year, with the majority used to irrigate fairways and greens. Unlike water used indoors, this water cannot be reclaimed and returned to Lake Mead.

With ongoing drought and shortage conditions along the Colorado River, water for new golf courses is considered a nonessential use of Southern Nevada’s water supply. Reducing nonessential water use is vital to the community’s health and safety, and restricting water-intensive uses such as golf course irrigation helps maintain a reliable source of water for the valley.

Existing golf courses

The Service Rule described above does not impact existing golf courses. Since 2003, however, these courses have operated under strict water budgets mandated by the Water District.

Water budgets are calculated based on the number of acres currently being irrigated. This includes all lakes and ponds within the course and those used all or in part as an irrigation reservoir. Budgeted acre-feet include potable, raw, reclaimed, and recycled water.

Water budgets for golf courses

Golf courses are allowed 6.3 acre-feet of water per irrigated acre per year. Water used in excess of a course's water budget incur surcharges.

Percentage of budget Surcharge to apply to water use in excess of budget
101 to 120 percent 2 times the highest nonpotable rate
121 to 140 percent 5 times the highest nonpotable rate
More than 140 percent 9 times the highest nonpotable rate
Golf course water conservation efforts

Each golf course has been required to submit its own water-use reduction plan containing at least the following elements:

  • Physical description of the course with detailed descriptions of irrigated areas
  • Itemized accounting of water use for the calendar year
  • A review of spray irrigation efficiency
  • A description of key water-use reduction strategies and timelines for implementation

Over the past decade, Southern Nevada golf courses have replaced 900 acres of turf with desert landscaping—enough grass to equal nine professional-sized, 18-hole courses. They have also invested in water efficiency and management projects such as soil monitoring, water-smart irrigation controllers, weather stations, and professional irrigation technicians that help ensure courses use water as efficiently as possible.

Currently, golf courses use 6 percent of the community’s water supply while providing recreation and economic benefit for residents and visitors. The Water District continues to work closely with golf course staff to implement conservation programs that further protect our limited water supply.

Golf courses are exempt from time-of-day and assigned watering day provisions.

For more details about golf course water budgets, see the Service Rules Chapter 11.

Government facilities

The following conservation measures apply to government facilities:

Parks and community-use recreational turf areas

Community-use recreational turf areas, such as public parks and athletic fields, must comply with the following restrictions:

Maximum watering frequency

Season Watering frequency
Watering for each area may not exceed 7 out of 14 days.
Watering for each area mat not exceed 2 out of 7 days.
Watering for each area may not exceed 7 out of 14 days.
Watering prohibited from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
The schedule must be posted at each location for spring, winter and fall.

Water budgets

The Water District reserves the right to assign specific water budgets to customers, including rates and surcharges related to the budget. If assigned, the Water District will notify water budgeted customers of how much water they are budgeted and additional provisions. For complete details, see Service Rules Chapter 11.