George Will

     The Strip -- the portion of Las Vegas Boulevard that has 15 of the world's 20 largest hotels -- features vast fountains, a sea battle between pirate ships and an 8.5-acre lake in front of the Bellagio hotel. However, Mulroy says, The Strip accounts for less than 1 percent of the state's water use -- while producing 60 percent of the state's economy. The average hotel room uses 300 gallons of water a day, but it is all recycled. The drought has elicited un-Western demands to slow this city's growth, but Mulroy briskly demurs: ``You don't use a growth moratorium to manage through a drought.'' You use, primarily, the market.

     For example, most people who move here -- there were a record 29,248 new home sales in 2004, an increase of 16 percent over 2003, which also set a record -- come from less arid places and they use home irrigation systems to reproduce the green lawns they left behind. Retirees, especially -- roughly 20 percent of the metropolitan area's 1.6 million residents are 55 or older -- come for the abundance of sunshine and the absence of an income tax. They demand grass.

     ``It is,'' says Mulroy, ``mind-boggling: they move to the desert and plant Kentucky blue grass'' -- a particularly thirsty kind. ``We were,'' she says incredulously, ``putting grass on medians.'' It was, she says, ``like moving to Alaska and walking down the street in a bathing suit in January.''
   
 The city got little response paying 40 cents a square foot for removed grass. But Nevadans understand pricing: $1 a square foot has bought the removal of turf to 50.9 million square feet, for annual savings of 2.8 billion gallons of water. Now garden stores stock desert plants for ``water smart landscaping,'' so lawns do not need to look like a Georgia O'Keeffe painting -- a cactus and a dead cow skull.

     Americans, passionate subduers of nature, are surpassing themselves here. Having built the nation's fastest growing city in a desert, they are now bringing the desert back to town. From 2002 to 2003, while population was growing 5,000 a month, water consumption declined from 318,000 acre-feet to less than 272,000, and was even less in 2004.

     Today Mulroy is worrying about snow. Falling in the Rockies, it should melt and flow into Lake Powell. But when mountain winds pick up, ``sublimated'' snow evaporates. The moisture goes into clouds ``and rains on Nebraska'' -- an indignity. Mulroy is not amused. If she decides to stop it, this betting town would not bet against her.


George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
 
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