Las Vegas from space over 25 years

Posted on | June 29, 2009 | No Comments

ON MARCH 1, 2009, NASA’s Landsat 5 satellite turned 25. NASA marked the occasion by publishing these photographs of Las Vegas photographed from space over a quarter of a century. The growth caught from above is sustained by an unyielding search for new water in the Mojave Desert below. This posting connects the NASA photos to that search for water.



In 1984, Greater Las Vegas had exhausted its local groundwater, but grew by finally exploiting an allocation from the Colorado River and the nearby reservoir, Lake Mead.

By 1989, (see photo below), it was clear that Las Vegas was outgrowing its Colorado River allocation and the Las Vegas Valley Water District applied for half of the legally available groundwater in the state of Nevada. The plan was to build hundreds of miles of pipeline north to tap the Great Basin Carbonate Aquifer. Using these as yet unapproved but powerfully enticing claims as collateral, the Las Vegas Valley Water District drew together all the local water agencies in Greater Las Vegas and formed the Southern Nevada Water Authority. 



Getting northern groundwater would take time for a long permission process to take place. Meanwhile, Greater Las Vegas continued to grow by optimizing Southern Nevada’s allocation from the Colorado River. In 1994, (see photo below) the Southern Nevada Water Authority hoped to get more water from the Colorado River as well as eventually exploiting its claims for northern groundwater. 



That didn’t happen. In 1999 (see photo below), the Colorado River entered an epochal drought. The Southern Nevada Water Authority accelerated its plan to get the northern groundwater applications approved so it could build the pipeline into the Great Basin.



In 2006, as Federal environmental impact studies churned along slowly, the Southern Nevada Water Authority began defending its most important rural groundwater claims before the State Engineer of Nevada. The argument: Growth could not be stopped and Las Vegas was the economic engine of the state.  

By July 2008, its confidence was so high that the Southern Nevada Water Authority pressed for a speedy final hearing over a key parcel of rural groundwater from the central Eastern basin Snake Valley. But in 2009, the authority was forced to turn that alacrity into requests for delays. Observers suspected that the authority could not produce a convincing scientific model allaying mounting fears about the ultimate impacts of the proposed pumping of the Great Basin. The federal review as to those environmental impacts is ongoing and being managed by the US Bureau of Land Management. While growth has been slowed by the Recession, the Southern Nevada Water Authority presses on with the pipeline plan out of sheer confidence that no state or federal agency will deny water to a major metropolis, whether or not that metropolis ever had a viable plan for sustainable growth.




NASA photos brought to the attention of this blog by the Mother Nature Network via Aquafornia.

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