Las Vegas, Malta, and Marrakech: Managing scarce water resources

Las Vegas

Las Vegas, Malta, and Marrakech – three very different tourist-infested locations with very different cultures, languages, and cities, are bound by one thing.

In all three bustling cities, beneath a cover of seemingly separate metropolises and geographies, water supplies are dwindling, but innovation and learning are rising, as they continue addressing their shared issue and continually improve their various crises management, integrated approaches for water security, and climate resilience.

Malta, situated comfortably in the Mediterranean, is like most semi-arid countries in the region, with low rainfall and not many surface bodies of water. Full of heritage and culture, tourists flood the metropolis during the summer – when water is the scarcest. After a long history of reliance on groundwater and collected rainwater, the water system finally gave way in the 1970s, resulting in water rationing and irregular supply until the 1990s.


The Malta Water Services Corporation was chosen to pull the nation back from the brink of collapse, charged with managing water demand and resources. The corporation lowered the pressure on the natural aquifers, preserving the supply, and seeing as the city is surrounded by the sea, turned to desalination instead. Desalination capacity was increased and integrated with an intensive leakage reduction programme to reduce non-revenue water loss, according to the Water Scarce Cities Initiative (WSC). Presently, the Malta Water Services Corporation is exploring new avenues, looking at rainwater harvesting, and wastewater reuse, perhaps to recharge underground aquifers and supply agriculture.

On the other hand, Las Vegas, Nevada, United States (U.S.), birthed from a railroad town and rest stop in between Salt Lake City, Utah and the State of California, is in the middle of the Mojave Desert, complete with a paltry 100mm of precipitation per year. Over the years, Las Vegas burgeoned into the populated and tourist-based economy it is today, driven by casinos, golf resorts, and hotels.

Much like the experience Marrakech had in 2006, the city stretched its water supplies to the limits in the 1980s. Had it not been for a complete turnaround in water management, 1992 would have been the year Las Vegas had simply run out of water.

Now, water managers in Southern Nevada manage the water scarcity with iron wills, maximising every drop of water within and without the state. Consequently, 70 per cent of Nevada’s economy only uses five per cent of its water. Moreover, Nevada’s economy and water managers have joined forces under the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA), using their combined expertise to show that integrated supply- and demand-side solutions have the potential to lead to sustainable water security. They subscribed to aggressive water conservation practices, targeted turf irrigation alongside golf resorts, and converted land into drought-resistant landscapes on a large scale. Additionally, they began looking at water banking at trading with new perspectives in order to increase available resources through measures much like channelling the water back into the Colorado River through natural streams and keeping themselves within the Colorado River Compact.

Their efforts have paid off well, and in the dry and arid environment, residents of Las Vegas now make every single drop count.

Water resilience is realised by diversifying limited resources through measures including aquifer management, leakage reduction, rainwater harvesting, seawater desalination, water trading, and conservation.

None of the methods mentioned above are revolutionary, nor are any of them particularly technically challenging. However, for developing countries afflicted by water scarcity, seemingly insurmountable barriers in the form of institutions, finances, and politics may be in the way. But Barcelona, Las Vegas, Malta, Marrakech, and Singapore are just a few examples of globalised urban centres that offer many first-hand experiences in overcoming the challenges faced, executing appropriate solutions, as well as developing the necessary technical and institutional capacity to achieve water security in water-stressed environments.


Source: Water Scarce Cities Initiative