Southern Nevada population could reach 3.6 million in 50 years, could spark plans for Pacific Ocean desalination plant

By Ray Hagar, Nevada Newsmakers

The population of Southern Nevada and the Las Vegas area could grow to about 3.6 million in 50 years and could spark plans for a desalination plant on the shores of the Pacific Ocean, said John Entsminger, general manager, Southern Nevada Water Authority.

Southern Nevada now has an estimated population of about 2.1 million, according to the UNLV Center for Business and Economic Research. The population jump to 3.6 million people would be big, but not the biggest in Las Vegas history, Entsminger said recently on Nevada Newsmakers.

“Our valley saw about a 100 percent increase from 1985 to 2000, so historically speaking, 50 percent in 50 years is a lot less than 15 years at 100 percent,” he said.


“The numbers take in all of Southern Nevada, all of Clark County, but obviously the vast majority would be in the Las Vegas Valley,” he said.

The projections have SNWA seriously thinking about a desalination plant on the shores of the Pacific Ocean to turn ocean water into drinking water for Southern Nevada, he said.

“If I got my my crystal ball out, I believe that in 30, 40 years from now, Southern Nevada probably will have an equity interest in a desalination facility either on the coast of California or on the Pacific coast of Mexico,” Entsminger said. “We’ve put in place a lot of legal agreements between the United States and Mexico to meet those types of exchanges possible.”

Veteran Nevadan Journalist Ray Hagar is known for fair and tough reporting and invigorating commentary.

Yet any serious desalination-plant talks remain far in the future.

“We just simply don’t need the water bad enough right now to move forward with that kind of hundreds of millions of dollars — or even billions of dollars — in capital investments for additional water supplies,” Entsminger said.

The growth in the job market will remain focused on the hospitality industry, although forecasts see major growth in manufacturing and logistics.

Entsminger sees expansion of water use around the site the future Ivanpah Valley Airport in the Mohave Desert, about 32 miles from Las Vegas and other areas outside the Las Vegas Valley.

“We are thinking about it today and what I mean is just last year, our board adopted an out-of-valley use policy,” he said. “It is not just Ivanpah but the Eldorado Valley — as we see Henderson move that way — and the possibility of North Las Vegas getting the Apex Industrial Park up and running.

“As we see growth and development occur outside of the hydrographic basin boundaries of the Las Vegas Valley, we are going to need different policies to provide that water but also to ensure the most efficient use of that water,” he said.

Currently, SNWA is in “a very healthy place” when it comes to current and future water use, Entsminger said.

“We are only using about two-thirds of our legal entitlement of the (Colorado) River,” He said. “We have bank supplies equal to eight years of our current demand. Our per-capita usage has continued to decrease, down about 43 percent since 2002. So I think we have the situation in hand.”

Citizens of Southern Nevada have grown wiser about their water use, he said.

“Certainly, the drought along the Colorado River has been ongoing since 2002 — the worse drought in the recorded history of the river,” Entsminger said. “But in the face of that, our community has responded by driving down their usage. We use 28 percent less water from the Colorado River today than we did in 2002. So under any scenario, our community has demonstrated that they are up to the challenge.”

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