Dry and Green in Las Vegas

LasVegasSignThor Ritz, here. This week I write to you from one of the least sustainable cities in the U.S. That’s right everyone, I’m in Vegas! Before you pass judgment, though, please understand that I’m not here for thrills or debauchery. I’m here to present at a Geography conference.

As our readers are well aware, Vegas offers a plethora of urban problems for a concerned observer to consider. Besides the more routine problems of homelessness and crime, the city faces some unique and profound environmental challenges. One of these is the region’s long standing relationship with nuclear testing and waste. Now that Obama has cut funding to the Yucca Mountain Project, however, it is possible that this issue will slide off the front pages to be eclipsed by other looming problems.

Arguably the largest of these is the city’s water situation. The opening plenary of the conference, in fact, was about this very issue. Two prominent Geographers and two resource scientists discussed the past, present and future of water in the American West. Long term drying trends and conflicts between agriculture and urban water use were the two biggest issues covered by the speakers as they traversed many of the same themes raised in the NPR piece, linked above.

Don’t get too comfortable simply critiquing the faults of Vegas, though. The city has recently emerged as a leader in “Green Development. The AAG reports that in 2005 the Nevada State Legislature passed laws which created significant tax incentives for LEED certified construction. Commercial developers on the strip in Vegas were some of the first to take advantage of these breaks. This may not absolve the city of it’s excessive and sprawling ways, but it certainly gives places like New York a reason to get their act together. I mean, do we really want to grant Vegas bragging rights as the leading “Green Development” city?

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