LAS VEGAS – Sin City may look like a lush water-waster as the state endures its fourth year of a severe drought, but casino-resorts say their fountains and greenery are well-crafted illusions.
The vice president of sustainability for MGM Resorts International, Chris Brophy, told a panel of the Nevada Drought Forum on Friday that through a variety of conservation efforts since 2008 the company has saved 2 billion gallons of water, equal to the amount of water that spills over Niagara Falls in four hours.
Brophy said the company's Bellagio fountain show and Cirque du Soleil's indoor water-show "O'' use on-site recycled well water and that the Aria resort's outdoor wall of water wastes less than a residential pool.
The company has 15 properties on the Las Vegas Strip, and Brophy said all of them combined use less water annually than the company's 52,000 employees, based on average residential use, although the company wouldn't say how much water it uses.
One water observer, who wasn't at the meeting, however, said the image Las Vegas presents to visitors may be hurting the conservation cause.
"There is this disconnect between the reality of saving water and the fantasy that we don't have to," said Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute, a California-based water research group. "But frankly, that's the job of Las Vegas, is to feed our fantasy, isn't it?"
The drought represents an unpleasant reality, he said, and while it hasn't been ignored by Strip resorts, including MGM, which have installed low-flow fixtures and done laundry differently to save water, hotel guests are seeing what appear to be opulent displays of water consumption even if features such as the fountains aren't wasting water.
"If the Bellagio wanted to send the message that they were serious about water savings, they would drain the fountains," Gleick said.
MGM Resorts didn't address Gleick's suggestion directly, but the company's chief sustainability officer, Cindy Ortega, said in a statement that MGM "continues to aggressively introduce best practices" to "decrease our use of water and minimize our environmental impact."
Friday was the second meeting of the Nevada Drought Forum convened by Gov. Brian Sandoval to review the state's water use and recommend policy changes by inviting stakeholders to talk about how the drought has affected them.
It was the casino industry's turn along with representatives from the state's mining and development industries.
Las Vegas area resorts use 7.6 percent of southern Nevada's water according to the Southern Nevada Water Authority. Nearly 60 percent of the state's water is used by single-family and multi-family homes.
Shallow salty groundwater sits below properties on the Strip, largely what's left after irrigation water on surrounding lawns sinks below ground and would otherwise build up and need to be pumped out if not for the water features, said Dale Devitt, director of the Center for Urban Water Conservation at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, reached after the meeting.
"They use a lot of water, but I think they've made incredible strides to conserve," he said of the area's resorts. Also, the Strip can't just turn off the sprinklers to its golf courses or drain its pools.
"We are a resort destination," he said. "Our economy is based on that."