From the window of an airplane, the city of Las Vegas appears like a vast oasis in the middle of the drab Mojave desert. The emerald green of golf courses contrasts with the flashes of aqua from thousands of backyard pools and the deeper blue of scattered artificial lakes and ponds.
On almost any day in the streets below, you can see water flowing along the curbs and into the gutters, runoff from sprinkled lawns of Kentucky bluegrass and dusty driveways being hosed clean. Fountains and waterfalls adorn not only the city's casinos, but also its strip malls, business parks, and apartment complexes, which bear names such as "Lakewood Cove," "Flamingo Bay," and "Harbor Island."
In an average year, only four inches of rain fall here, yet Las Vegans use more water per person than residents of any other major city in the country. They pour most of it on the ground around their homes, trying to force greenery out of the alkaline desert soil.
In this city of illusions, the sense of abundant water is perhaps the biggest mirage of all. Barring a major drought, Las Vegas's existing water supply will carry it through the year 2007. A series of interim measures should provide enough water for continued growth through the year 2025, when the population is projected to reach 2.3 million.
And after 2025? No one knows exactly, but Las Vegans are fond of reciting the maxim "In the West, water runs uphill toward power and money."