Nevada is probably most famous for the lights and luxury of Las Vegas—the city receives 42 million visitors this year. However, Nevada has many claims to fame. It is also the driest and most mountainous state in the country and is home to over 150 mountain ranges not to mention over 3 million people. It spans nearly 110 square miles.
As Nevada is already the driest state in the nation, it is extremely vulnerable to extreme heat and drought. Nevada’s Reno is the fastest-warming city in the US. By 2050 the state is projected to see about 50 heat wave days per, up from 15 in 2000, and 30 days that reach dangerous levels. Already in the summer of 2019, Las Vegas had to set up shelters and temporary cooling stations to help people escape the intolerable heat. Wildfires are also of concern here.
These changes are putting an extreme strain on Nevada’s water supply. As in other places around the world, warmer temperatures shift rain patterns so that rain storms often become more intense even as they are less frequent. As snowpack melts earlier in the Spring, it also evaporates more quickly. The result of these combined forces is dried-out land and shrinking bodies of water.
Formed by the Hoover Dam in 1935 and fed by the Colorado River, Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the country, has dropped 143 feet since 2000, is now just 37% full with an estimate of 34% by the end of 2021. So disturbed by the water scarcity, representatives of seven Western states ( Nevada, California, Arizona, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico) and the federal government signed a landmark deal already in 2019, laying out potential cuts in water deliveries through 2026 to reduce the risks of the river’s reservoirs hitting critically low levels. 25 million people rely on Lake Mead and, as the first round of water cuts take place, hardest hit will be the agricultural and tribal communities. As Nevada’s Director of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources admitted at the time, Nevada has already reached critical mass in terms of its water supply and is seeking ways to pump in water from out of state.
And, there is another danger: more than four-fifths of Nevada’s land is owned and managed by the federal government—a higher share than in any other state—and one of the nation’s largest federal hydroelectric facilities, the Hoover Dam –normally producing 2,000 megawatts of hydropower—enough electricity for nearly 8 million Americans, is delivering 25% less as Lake Mead is diminished, affecting several states, including California, Arizona and Nevada, all of which get energy from the dam. If the lake loses another 175 feet, water will no longer flow through the Hoover Dam.
Nevada is not a major energy-producing state — in 2019, 85% of the energy consumed in Nevada came from out-of-state. Most of its electricity comes from natural gas, which fuels about 65% of its consumption, with 28% of Nevada’s electricity generated from renewable energy. It ranks second in the nation in electricity generation from geothermal energy and fourth in utility-scale generation from solar.
Nevada is also taking concerted steps towards addressing climate change. In 2020 Governor Steve Sisolak signed an executive order that required collaboration across state, private, and tribal partners to create a State Climate Strategy. And, in June 2021, the legislature approved a sweeping clean energy bill that aims to accelerate construction of a massive transmission project, increase spending on electric vehicle infrastructure and require that the state join a regional transmission organization (RTO) by 2030. Nevada also has a first-of-its-kind hybrid geothermal-solar power plant, which combines geothermal power with solar PV and solar thermal generation.
Nevada is one of twenty four states, plus Puerto Rico, committed to the U.S. Climate Alliance, a bipartisan coalition of governors committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions consistent with the goals of the Paris Agreement.