Shops Feel Fountains Go With the Vegas Territory

Developers are Trucking in Out-Of-State Water to Get Around Water Restrictions

Stranded in the desert, this city has always had to import its goods and trappings, be it sushi-grade tuna or palm trees trucked in to exude paradise. But a new import is audacious even by Las Vegas standards: water that serves no purpose other than coursing through decorative fountains, gurgling and then evaporating into dry air, the Los Angeles Times reported.

As part of an aggressive and largely successful conservation effort, southern Nevada water regulators levied strict limits on ornamental fountains. The rules upset shopping center developers, who use fountains to break up the otherwise endless horizon of rocky crags and chain stores on the outskirts of town.

Barry Bender, president of Triple Five Nevada, developer of Boca Park Center–an upscale shopping venue–decided to take a stand. Bender began hauling in truckloads of water from Canada and the Northwest and dumping it into his decorative fountains.

At a cost of as much as $20,000 a month, tens of thousands of gallons of water have been poured into three fountains. The move abides, technically, by the water rules, which state only that water for fountains cannot be drawn from underground pipes. When the water evaporates, which can take as little as three days under the summer sun, Triple Five fills the fountains again, according to the article in the Los Angeles Times.

Signs around Boca Park read: "The water in this fountain is not from the state of Nevada or the Colorado River Basin. It is imported."

As a result, several other development companies, after learning of Triple Five's ploy, have followed suit.

Bender said he understands that conservation is a critical issue in the fast-growing Las Vegas area; however, according to him, the water his fountains lose to evaporation is "infinitesimal" compared with the water used by other businesses, such as golf courses. Bender thinks that developers of shopping centers are victims of a double standard because the conservation rules do not apply to the large casinos and resorts on the Las Vegas Strip.

That includes the swanky Bellagio, home to a $40-million fountain that "dances" to Luciano Pavarotti singing "Rondine al Nido" and Frank Sinatra's "Luck Be a Lady." The water shoots more than 200 feet into the air, much of it landing on the adjacent sidewalk or disappearing altogether, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Vince Alberta, a spokesman for the Southern Nevada Water Authority said the Strip resorts are exempt from the restrictions for two reasons: First, most of the water used on the Strip for decorative fountains and waterfalls is either groundwater or recycled water, which is less heavily regulated. Second, the success of the Strip is critical in shoring up the rest of the region's economy, Alberta said.

According to Alberta, trucking in water to small businesses with decorative is technically legal.

"The ultimate goal is to conserve Colorado River water," Alberta said. "That's what we're trying to achieve. They have found a creative way to do that."

Alberta thinks that the practice might violate the spirit of the rules, which were designed to encourage residents and businesses to embrace their surroundings–which means, in the desert, using less water. Through a host of conservation measures, southern Nevada used 270,000 acre-feet of water in 2003, down from 325,000 in 2002. An acre foot of water is 325,000 gallons.

Under the new regulations, businesses with decorative fountains were supposed to have two options: They could turn them off, or they could leave them on, provided they converted 50 square feet of grass into rocks or sand for every square foot of surface water in their fountain–a deal that provides long-term water savings because sprinklers are eliminated, the Los Angeles Times reported.

According to Alberta, residential consumers, who must abide by their own set of conservation regulations, will have to decide whether they want to patronize shopping centers that truck in water to get around the rules.

Los Angeles Times

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