These cities are working alongside nature to become flood-proof
- We are following a wastewater investigator here in Las Vegas. This is a story about water: places that have too much and places with too little, and how climate change is simultaneously accelerating both of those challenges for cities worldwide. We got water on the sidewalk. Go, go, go! Rotterdam and Amsterdam are under perpetual threat of flooding but haven't had a flooding death in over 60 years. How has Dutch infrastructure helped accomplish this? Las Vegas gets just four inches of rain per year but just may be the most water-secure desert city in the country.
How has a city of excess becomes so good at dealing with scarcity? We venture to these three cities to see four different strategies they're deploying against the threats of flooding and drought, blocking water from flowing, capturing it where it falls, conserving what they can, and reusing the limited amount they have. In this story, water is both hero and villain. We need it, but too much or too little of it threatens our urban communities. What are cities doing to manage today's water challenges, and how are they adapting to survive the water threats of the coming decades? Whoa. This is still original. We start this story in the Netherlands at a storm barrier seven miles outside of Rotterdam, a city that sits three meters below sea level, and is sinking.
This barrier protects the city from being drowned from the east. It's rather simple: When storm surge from the North Sea threatens the area, a barrier gate is lower to block water from cresting the banks of the river. As long as the gate closes, this area is safe. - So the system is it moves the counterweight and moves the gate itself, which makes it easier to move the barrier and doesn't take that much energy. - Here's a fact that I find fascinating: The very first storm barrier on this spot, it was improvised.
January 1953. A storm on the North Sea has sent a surge of water towards this area, and a key protective dike has failed. - We had a gap of about 15 meters, and at that night, the mayor of the city here orders for a ship that was close to it, 18 meters, and put a ship in. - That saved this area, but the North Sea flood of 1953 caused widespread devastation.
In response, the Dutch enacted the Delta Works- a network of water defense measures built across the southwest of the Netherlands. This storm barrier was the first to be completed and has successfully protected Rotterdam for nearly 70 years since. And yet, the thing is, this barrier can't ever fail to close when it's needed most if this area is to be protected.
But what happens if there's a power outage, which seems likely in a major storm? Marc had an answer for that. So he's taking us to see a key feature that makes this barrier near-fail proof, but first, we have to climb all the way to the top. - Just so you know, I'm probably only gonna roll a little bit walking up these steps. I might also tremble because I'm a little afraid of heights. - We'll make it, Dusty. I'm scared of heights, too. I don't know why I keep enthusiastically agreeing to climb things.
I'm already feeling a little like- ugh. - Me too. Definitely not used to operating one-handed, but I'm definitely not letting go of that rail either. - Only one barrier gate is needed in case of flooding, but two gates were built as a redundancy, one of many. - Normally, we close this barrier two meters, but if we expect more than three meters, for example, then we will close both to make sure the area here behind will be very safe. - All right, here we go.
- So this is the new gear equipment. If the electricity fails, we still have engines to make our own energy. If that doesn't even work, and we have just brakes, and we use gravity just to lower those gates. So then people have to come up this tower, two persons on this side, two persons on the other side, one person outside in the office coordinating. This is a set of brakes, and this is a set of brakes.
Then it's possible for a person to stand here and to lift. Yeah, we really developed the system much better than it was originally even, so it's much easier now to lower the gate by hand. - I was gonna ask you what you thought maybe the coolest fact about the barrier is.
So far, I feel like it's this. - It is, it is, that you still, with all those technology, there's still a human involvement apart from decision-making that you're still capable of closing this barrier by hands. Yeah. - Yeah, that's amazing. How do you feel about heights? - No problem. - No problem.
- For centuries, the Dutch have lived in a precarious harmony with the water. This requires constant vigilance and adaptation. Children learn to swim in their clothing and shoes just in case, and, at night- as a reminder of a threat that can never be fully extinguished- the barrier is lit up, blue if open, red if the waters are high and the barrier is closed, protecting this area from flooding. - The hardest part about Amsterdam so far is getting around. - It's insanely windy.
- With climate change, we see a huge increase in rainfall intensities, especially in the summer. - Barriers alone aren't enough to protect the cities of the Netherlands from all of the flood threats they face. Cloud bursts, sudden intense rainfalls that can quickly overwhelm the great infrastructure of an urban area, are a growing challenge here.
- The sewage system already has reached its maximum capacity, and when it reaches maximum capacity, you will see sewage water that automatically flows into our canals. - We're here in Rotterdam to see the world's largest water square, which is designed to capture and store water where it falls, and then release it slowly to prevent sewers from overflowing and streets from flooding. - The solution is not building bigger sewage pipe or more pumping stations. It's a huge investment. Doing nothing means water on the streets, so we need to make sure that we catch the water where it falls.
- So this looks like a basketball court. Can you tell me what else this is? - Yeah, so this is the biggest reservoir of this water square. So in a total of all these three reservoirs, 1.6 million liters of water can be stored- and this is the biggest one. So, when there's really heavy rainfall, with high rainfall intensity, this fills up. - So we're in the middle of where all the water gathers.
- Yeah. - So how does the water actually get here when it's raining? - Yeah, so we collect the water from the surrounding area, both the surface, but also the roofs of the buildings. It's entered here into these drains. Then it's transported to the concrete structure over there, and then it flows into the reservoir.
- What was here before this existed? - Nothing-just a dull gray square with only pavement- nothing like this. - And so why a basketball court? - Years ago, the local government, they designed everything for the citizens. On this location, we actually designed it together with the kids from the school, with the people from the church. - What happens to the water when it goes into this one? - It fills up. It stays in there for 24 hours because we wanna show the people that we collect water. We also want to create awareness with project like these.
- You all designed this to hold the water long enough that people actually notice it as part of an awareness campaign versus just kind of disappearing the water, and no one ever has to think about why we're not flooding. - That's the thing- you can build massive structures below the surface for water retention. Nobody ever sees it, it's very expensive, and it doesn't serve any other function than storing water. - So this is the third one.
So the water flows down here and then fills into the square? - Yes. The two small reservoirs: the water is drained through the groundwater, and the big reservoir, we pump it to the surface water. - If flooding wasn't challenging enough, now the Dutch are facing, at the same time, a very different water problem- drought. In 2022, the national government declared a water shortage.
- We don't want to water all our trees and plants with tap water. So what we're doing now is make sure that we catch the storm water and use it in dry periods. - To explore this idea further, we went to Amsterdam to check out an anti-flood technology being deployed on rooftops across the Netherlands. - One of the advantages of a polder roof is that you have like a hydroponic system- so you feed the plants from below. It just functions like a natural system. The polder roof is basically a water catchment area.
So there is a buffer system on this full area, about three, three and a half inches, that catches all the water. But there's also a measure to cool the city because we store the water and evaporate it on the roof. - The polder roof is an example of a citizen-level approach to increasing what's called Amsterdam's "sponge capacity," capturing water where it falls, releasing some of it slowly into the sewers, and diverting the rest of it for productive use- all of which together prevents flooding. One example of a productive use, a brewery in Amsterdam uses captured rainwater to make beer- which is a wise choice when your city is facing both downpours and drought, and people who need to get their drink on. We write about a brewery that makes beer from rainwater that gets captured on the rooftop- maybe you guys could do that in the building. - Actually, - That'd be cool.
one of the inhabitants is starting a brewery in the parking garage. - Oh, there you go. So this is shaped like a raindrop. - Yeah, just a reference to water, I mean, it that it stands out a little on the roof. - [Jason] Yeah, yeah. It's fun. - My engineers hated me for it, but- - Internet-connected sensors monitor water levels and temperature to determine when and how fast the water should be released from the polder roof system.
A battery backup can keep the system up for 48 hours in a power outage. What kind of weather event is the polder roof designed to address? - Big downpours of rain. Every polder roof has a tipping bucket. We have so much more precise information on where a cloud burst happens.
- Over 50 polder roof systems have been installed thus far in Europe and the Americas. So this is a rain garden. - Yes. - What do these letters do? - So this street is called Zomerhof Street. So this is the signing of the neighborhood, but within those letters, there are rain barrels which collect the storm water from the overpass over here, and the water is used for watering the plants in dry periods.
- What are some of the biggest challenges that Rotterdam faces in trying to implement some of these solutions that you've come up with? - Before 2040, we have to build 50,000 homes in the city, so which means there's no space for water retention, an increase of concrete because of all these buildings, which is not really beneficial for the climate proofness of your city. For the next four years, we're building 50 climate-adaptive projects. What we want from climate adaptation is more green in the city because where there's green, there's no pavement. Where there's no pavement, water can just flow into the ground.
- For Rotterdam, more green means greater resilience against water, but in Las Vegas where we continue our story, too little water is the problem, and too much green can actually be the enemy of conservation, especially in a time of historic drought. One house will have grass. The next house will have rocks. The next house might have desert landscaping. Some of these houses even have fake grass, and especially kind of being from the East Coast, this is just kind of totally unfamiliar to me. What you see behind me is a grass removal project. Las Vegas has been removing turf for over 20 years.
This is one of many things they do to conserve water. With the exception of schools, parks, and cemeteries, grass is now prohibited in new commercial and residential developments. A new state law mandates that, by 2027, Colorado River water will no longer be allowed to be used on non-functional turf on commercial land. Non-functional grass has no recreational value- it's purely decorative. As someone told us, "It's grass that's only stepped on by those who are cutting it."
This is commercial land. This is HOA-controlled property, and they're ripping up their grass that really has no functional use, but they're actually getting paid to do it; $3 a square foot, a subsidy from the government to encourage them to do the right thing. This side of the street is a a finished project. So this is what that side of the street's gonna look like. They're ripping it out and replacing it with this kind of plastic-y fake grass and rocks like this. You might be wondering: 'What about all those golf courses?' Existing golf courses have strict water budgets and are penalized for overages.
Some have even equipped golfers with GPS trackers to map the areas of their courses that saw little play and could be converted from grass to water-smart desert landscaping. It's become a bit of a tradition that I bring a rock home from wherever we go. I don't know.
You think Las Vegas is gonna mind if I take this? Dusty, do you want One? - Yeah. - That's a good one. In Las Vegas, conservation efforts come in many shapes and sizes: restrictions on large new pools, new technology that listens for leaks and pipes on the Strip, and even water waste investigators or what some affectionately call the "water cops."
One such H2O-fficer-I just made that up- named Salvador, invited us on his morning patrol. Dusty, how you feeling about today? - I don't know if you just heard what he said, but he can't stop. So we need to jump out of the car and start filming him immediately. - Great. - So be ready.
- So we are following a wastewater investigator here in Las Vegas. They drive around neighborhoods like the one that we're in that either is not supposed to be watering on a given day or they look for kind of water runoff. We've hired a professional race car driver, Aya Blanco, to keep up with the wastewater investigator. Here we go. - Oh, the lights!
- We just pulled into a neighborhood, and we're looking to see if we find anyone that is gonna get a citation. We might have something here. In each community, watering days are assigned. They're adjusted by season, and no one is ever allowed to water on Sunday. These rules make it easy for Salvador to identify violations. - Spray and flow.
- So what did you just find there, Salvador? - So this is a non-watering group. They're only allowed to water in a winter schedule on Fridays. So when we see evidence of them watering today, we could write 'em up for a day of the week violation. Now we look up the history. - And will that determine if they get a fine? - Correct.
If they already had a violation of day of the week within the last 18 months, we do assess the fee. If they don't have any type of violation, we do leave a notice, what we call a door hanger and a watering guide, and then they do get a formal letter in the mail. - Because in the end, the point of this is not to punish people, but really it's just to get them to comply. - Correct, you know, 'cause there is people that's like, "Oh, I didn't even know I'm watering today," because they have irrigation clocks. So what happens is when the power goes out, if they don't replace the battery, when the power comes back on, it gets default to whatever the manufacturer set it to. - Before we finish our ride along with Salvador, let's check out a conservation effort that's much less visible, using the power of data to detect invisible leaks in the hundreds of thousands of homes in the area.
We are at the Las Vegas Valley Water District offices, and we are gonna learn about the, I dunno, Dusty, smart metering system? Is that how how we say it? - It's the AMI, which is advanced metering infrastructure. - Aya, what does that do? - What? - AMI, or advanced metering infrastructure, is a system that gathers data from every single meter location that we have within our city. It helps us determine when customers have leaks, abnormal usage. - That's right. I knew that. Thanks, Dennis. - Our meters that are currently in the ground, we've attached a device to it called an 'endpoint.' This is our transmitter and our holder of information.
That endpoint device gives us information about every single meter. - So with the AMI system, this is the piece that you've added to each of these? - Correct. There's 430,000 roughly of those. - Wow. That's crazy. - Yeah.
- The previous system, called AMR, required drive-bys to collect reads and provided only monthly data. The AMI system collects hourly data. - This gives us kinda like a heartbeat signature to see how healthy is this property? Does the customer have any issues? - I live in New York and my gas and electric utility has started sending kind of weekly emails that compares my energy usage this week to the past week, and it does have this effect of like, "Oh, what am I doing different? I wanna use less." How do you go about notifying people when they have a leak or if you have a similar kind of usage information for them? - When a customer pops up on our report here that has a leak, we automatically generate what we call a 'leak letter,' and if they can't find it, after that notice, they can give us a call and we can walk them through on potential locations where their leak might be. - I'm guessing these are the kinds of leaks that like a wastewater investigator would not be able to easily see from the street.
- Correct. - Don't waste water. - Ah! He's turning around. - He's working. - A broken sprinkler.
- Oh, a broken sprinkler. - Oh, it's on the sidewalk. We got water on the sidewalk. Go, go, go! - Water waste investigator 8507. Time is 8:14, January 26. So here, we have a broken emitter, which is a malfunction. We flag it. We document it. - To an outsider, this might seem kind of like small potatoes.
- Correct. - Does this have a big impact? - Oh, absolutely. I mean, if you multiply by numbers throughout the city, yeah, it could be a lot of water waste. - As an observer, it could be easy to think that this is all focused on being punitive and collecting money, but it seems like you all are really kind of focused on education and giving people a chance to kind of fix the correction. And even the way you talk about it, you give people a lot of credit for like, "Oh, it's probably a mistake, it's probably this meter." - We're not out here to collect money.
We're here to educate, and we're here just to make a water-efficient community. - Are people generally kind of bought into what you're doing as a kind of service, or are people kind of resistant to this? - They do help us out. They do point us 'cause sometimes we don't catch everything. They like the idea. - We're in a drought. I mean, we've been in a drought for 20-plus years.
So that changes the dynamic of how people grow up in the desert. All they've known their whole entire life is that we're in a drought and that you have to use water as efficiently and as effectively as you can. - Thank you very much. - Thank you. Yeah, you guys have a - Bye! Thank you! - good weekend.
All right. - She's training to take over your job in the future, - There you go! - following you around. Where to next? - I was just gonna keep on driving around, and hopefully, we don't catch any. That's the goal. - Bye! - What I find interesting is thinking about how they've got people to buy into this 'cause there's a certain like collectivism to this that seems difficult to get people to buy into in the United States, and yet, it seems like people are bought into this idea that like water cops are driving around to give them warnings and citations for watering on the day that the government decided they can't water.
That's kind of wild to me, but it seems to actually be working. Maybe it's just when you live in the desert, you know, there are certain realities that you accept, which you would kind of hope would be the thing that, no matter what your politics are, when there's a problem in your city, that you can adapt to be able to fix the problem. Outdoor water use is consumptive, meaning it doesn't get returned to its source. That's why conservation efforts need to have a big impact outside, but indoors, Las Vegas is able to employ a different water-saving tactic. If you're anything like me, this is super stressful- but the really cool thing about Las Vegas is that 99% of this indoor water is gonna be captured, cleaned, and reused. Jason, hold on.
Before water can be reused, it needs to be used, right? So like, where does Las Vegas get its water from, and how are they securing their water access against a drier future? I mean, it's a desert city, so can you like find out? We're headed to Lake Mead, which is where Las Vegas gets most of its water from, and we're gonna see intake valve three. This new intake valve was built so that they'll be able to take water outta Lake Mead for Las Vegas, even as water levels continue to drop. Southern Nevada Water Authority. Hey Bronson, I'm Jason. - Jason, it's pleasure to meet you.
- Nice to meet you. - Yeah! - Thanks for coming out here to show us around. - Welcome to the Low Lake Level Pumping Station out here at Lake Mead. - The city of Las Vegas gets 90% of its water supply from Lake Mead, which is delivered through pumping stations like this one. But two decades of severe drought and increasing aridification thanks to climate change have created an existential threat: Lake Mead levels dropping so low that existing pumping infrastructure can no longer access any water. - We get the smallest allocation of Colorado River water- we're only entitled to 1.8%,
hence the reason that we put so much emphasis on making sure that we have reliable infrastructure for our community. - Southern Nevada and the city of Las Vegas needed to do something bold, so they set out to build essentially a third straw: a new intake at a much lower depth than Lake Mead that could continue to draw water for Las Vegas; even in some worst case scenarios in which cities and states further south would no longer be able to access Colorado River water. Tell me about the process of building Intake 3.
- Intake No. 3, which is a deep water, three-mile-long tunnel underneath Lake Mead that allows us access at the deepest part of the lake, was really an engineering marvel. - A 600-foot vertical shaft took over a year of round-the-clock work to complete. A specially built tunnel boring machine was lowered into the shaft, then worked under 15 atmospheres of water pressure, higher than any previous tunneling project in the world, to excavate the three-mile-long tunnel under the lake.
The intake structure was built on a barge, tugged out onto the lake through rough weather, and then was lowered into a blasted-out pit where it was secured with concrete laid at a depth never done before. One worker was killed during construction, and the new intake cost $817 million to build, which was funded entirely by the residents of Southern Nevada. - Water flows through Intake No. 3, comes into this forebay, at which point each of these 34 submersible pumps reach down into that water and then pump that water up. - So it comes out of the lake here, and then this kind of begins its journey towards use in the community.
- Yeah, that's absolutely right. - Construction on Intake No. 3 began in 2008, part of an insurance policy for the future. This low-lake level pumping station was completed in 2020.
Just two years later, it had to be used for the first time to keep water flowing to Las Vegas. - It's this facility right here that is giving us the assurity and the reliability that we can continue to draw water from our primary water supply in order to serve 70% of our state's population. The way that we constructed this. This rock that you see here, it's all rock from 600 feet underneath Lake Mead, so yeah. - That's crazy. - It's prehistoric rock, you know? I mean, you're talking some pretty old bedrock there. - Take a souvenir. You should sell those for souvenirs.
- Ultimately, they need to stay within the National Park area. It is National Park property. - You've lived here for 30 years. Did you used to do any water activities here or have memories here? - Oh, absolutely. In fact, it's just on the other side there at Boulder Harbor where we used to ditch school, get my buddy's dad's boat, and bring it out, and we used to just drop it in right here, and then we were out wakeboarding for the day.
- So then how does it feel for you personally to see this? - You know, it's frustrating, and there's an emotional connection here associated with it. You wanna see the effects of climate change. It's right here. This is it. For us in the west, it's a warmer and it's a drier future. That means less water.
Water supplies are gonna be more constrained. That means we need to be more diligent in how we use it, how we conserve it, how we reuse it, and I think lots- - Okay, Jason, now you can talk about reuse. - 99% of all indoor water that's used in Las Vegas goes through a reclamation facility like the one we're about to visit before it goes back to Lake Mead.
Nevada is allotted 300,000 acre feet of water from Lake Mead each year, reduced in 2022 to 275,000 by a shortage declaration, but, in reality, they use 400,000 acre feet yearly. How is that possible? Because, essentially, they borrow water and then put water back, and, for every acre foot they return to Lake Mead, an additional acre foot above their allotment is allowed to be used. All told in 2022, they only used a net of 225,000 acre feet- well below their allotted limit.
This first building is where they remove all of the kind of big pieces of trash from the process. So rags, wipes, all that gets taken outta the water here. This is Slick. He's the plant operations manager, and he agreed to give us a tour. He's also like a lot of fun. I trust you! This is the first step.
The water just came into your facility now. So wipes, toilet paper, it looks like maybe medical gloves there. - Yeah, latex gloves. - Paper towels.
- Paper towels. - Condoms. We saw a condom in there. It all gets stopped here. - Yep. - And then eventually, this water will be drinkable again. - Oh yes.
- There are many steps in this process, each of which does very specific scientific-y things that I don't fully understand how best to explain. So, I'm gonna summarize the steps for you like this: Removing junk like wipes. - Put the wipes in the trash! - Removing poop. You can smell right away. Removing pee, removing bacteria, and then, voila- putting the water back into Lake Mead.
- We're probably treating over 105 million gallons of water a day. Every other day, we take a rag and a grit truck to the landfill along with the 24, 26 loads of the water sludge cake to the landfill. - That is a lot of junk in the water then.
- That's a lot. - All right. - All right, so next stop. - Primaries. - Primary. Ooh. The smell's getting worse.
It smells. This step- - These are our primary clarifiers. - Is about removing poop. - So now we're actually in the first step of treating the water. We wanna bind together solids to make 'em heavier so they can float to the bottle of the tank.
- And it smelled terrible. - You see that covered. We take our odor control very seriously around here. So this bio filter is what is taking these odors off of these processes and making it smell good.
- How bad would it smell if these were not covered? - Oh, man. Yeah. When you asked me what we smelled up there? 10 times worse. Yes. - 10 times worse. - I can see if I can open this one and let you get a little peek of. - And a little whiff, I'm guessing.
- Oh yeah. Let's see which one I wanna try. - Aya, our producer, thinks that she can hide from the smell in the van, but you can't hide from the smell. Whoa. - Get a whiff! - You can smell it right away! - Can you smell it from there? You supposed to come here.
You making me feel bad! You hiding! - Okay. - Come over here by me. It ain't gonna bite. (water rushes) - Ah man. - You smell it now?
- That is not water I would wanna fall into. In that first step in the preliminary, I mean, it looked like I was seeing- - You saw that. Yeah, yeah. - Okay, so there was. There was some poop in there. - Yeah. - Okay. I wanted to ask but I didn't know, and there's still poop here.
Okay. All right, I think we can close it up. - See? Smell's gone. - Did that satisfy the curiosity inside you? - It did, yeah.
I don't think need to smell anything else if possible. We just saw the second step of the process, which smelled like s***, literally, 'cause there's still s*** in the water. The third step of the process starts to remove ammonia, which Slick told me is from urine as well as chemicals from cleaning products, etc.
So that's the next thing that we're gonna see. The removing pee step. - So this is our aeration basin process. Thousands of microorganisms consuming that phosphorous and ammonia up 24/7.
We don't use no chemicals. These bugs grow, we waste 'em, they reproduce again, and it's a continuous process. - You said depending on where the water's coming from, if I flush my toilet, it may take about 12 hours for the water to arrive at the facility. How long for it to move through all the steps to be in the wash and out of the facility? - 16, 18 hours probably. - Wow. Okay. So it's constantly moving, but there's a lot for it to move through before it's - Oh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah. outta the facility. - Still not drinkable, but- - But getting closer. - Getting closer.
- Great. This is not a step in the cleaning process, but I couldn't pass up seeing a bunch of huge pipes underground. Job perk. Wow! It's huge. - All right, where we at?
- Everything down here, as far as control wise, it runs automatically. - What does your normal day look like? Are you moving about the facility like this? - I used to and I miss it sometimes. I've been here 33 years, so if I've watched the plant go from here to what it is today. - In that time, the MDG, or millions of gallons per day, that comes through this facility has tripled. - It's a lot of water. - That's a sign of both a growing population and increased efforts to redirect water from storm drains into sanitary sewers that bring it into a treatment plant like this one.
If the population were to double again in the next 30 years like it did the last 30 years, is there enough room here to expand, to keep up with that? - Yes. - Wow. This step will remove any remaining solids from the water. - This kind of separates the pudding from the cake. - Okay. - You know what I mean? You saw it all brown, mixed up and all that stuff. - Yep. - Okay.
You gonna see that end product. - In Slick's metaphor, I'm not exactly sure what's the pudding and what's the cake, but the separation of brown stuff from clearish water was apparent. So the water's entering here. - Yep.
- You kind of see that brown in the water over here. - Yep, and it's slowing it down to give it all sauce enough time to settle. - To settle. And then as you get out towards the edge of the tank and you see that water kind of falling over the edge, it looks pretty clear. - Yes. - I mean, that's looking pretty good. - That's pretty clear water there.
- Now is this drinkable yet or no? - Not yet! - Not yet. - But it's pretty clean right here. - The removing bacteria step. - Man, if you put your hand over this, you can kind of feel the heat from the water. - Oh yeah.
So what is the UV disinfecting from the water specifically? - Pathogens, you know, pick of coliforms, you know, things that can get people sick. You know what I mean? So you now you wanna ask me, "Can you drink the water now?" - Yeah, can I dip a cup in there and drink that water? - Hey, hey, you can have some of that water if you want. - I could. - You could.
It's almost pretty 90% drinking water, and we wanna be able to discharge the best, highest quality water out to the city that you can to the community. That's our goal everyday. - Is there a part of this process where you can put a little in a cup for me and I can drink it? - Yeah, if you want to. Now I'm gonna have to sign a consent now. - I'll sign it. If you're telling me it's safe, I'll drink it.
- You gotta be kidding me. - I trust- - I'll call on the phone and get the, you want the 40 ounce? - I trust you. - So all the water you saw coming through the UV channels and through lamps and every being disinfected, that water's now traveling through here from that backside over there through some gates, and that's our end product going down going out to the wash. - This is the end product. - End product. - And now it's moving fast. - Because it's rolling.
- And it'll eventually end up back in Lake Mead and then gets pumped back out to be used again. - Every gallon we treat, we get back into the valley. - Yep. - Like that. - So this is what water reclamation looks like. You got dirty water, and instead of just letting it be wasted, you capture it, you clean it, - And reclaim it. - You reclaim it - Bring it back. - You use it again again.
- Use it again. - And then voila- the water goes back to Lake Mead. But this water is definitely safe for me to drink. - Oh yeah. - This is the drinkable water. - Yep, that's it right there.
That's drinkable. - I just got this souvenir bottle of water from the Southern Nevada Water Authority. They bottled this water themselves straight from Lake Mead. I never did get that 40 ounce from Slick. Does it taste- - It tastes like reclaimed water from the casinos of Las Vegas Boulevard.
- but this is close enough. The story of water use and reuse in Las Vegas begins and ends at Lake Mead. This is the water that feeds Las Vegas's needs, and then this is where the water from the reclamation center ends up, and then it's gonna go through the whole cycle again. The decline of water levels in Lake Mead is really stark and obvious, but Las Vegas also claims to be water secure for the next 50 years.
We can't know for sure what the future holds for Las Vegas or for the cities of the Netherlands, but there's hope to be found in what cities are already doing today, right now, to secure their futures in the face of very different water threats. Sometimes we don't even know the progress being made all around us in our own city. How do you feel about water security? - Well, I was pretty paranoid about the water in Las Vegas until working on the show. - Eduardo's a local. - Good morning.
- Hey, good morning! - We hired him to work with us on this shoot, and what we learned along the way really surprised him. - I moved here right before the drought started, so all I knew is we're losing water, and it had me real worried, and I had no idea we were doing all these efforts. So, I mean, I still think I should conserve water, but it does change my outlook for sure. - Sometimes we are the ones making progress against the challenges our city faces.
- When this was still a road, the people living here, they already took out a few of the tiles and built a small rain garden themselves, like to show us what's possible. It's motivated us to work together with them into building this. - I've been living here since '91.
I made thousands of trips to Lake Mead, and I've seen that water overflowing on the dam, and now, I mean, I don't think nobody would experience that. So to me, it's very important. I feel like I am making an impact. - My son's 11 years old.
He knows when we're driving down the street, if he sees some water running, he's like, "Hey, we need to report that, or we need to get that fixed." People in this community are actively looking for ways to save water, so it's part of the culture here. - I'm a strong believer that we should think circular on water. If you would start to catch and collect it and make it available for reuse, we can have more water security.
- I think I was wrong. Water isn't the hero or the villain of this story. Water is just water, and the water challenges we face may best be seen as a reflection of our behaviors and choices. So this was in part an idea of the people built by the city and now maintained by the people. - Yeah, and the people living here and working here, they said, "We want more green in our streets." There are three reservoirs around this rain garden where water can be stored and infiltrated to the groundwater, but, at the same time, it's more green.
It's designed with biodiversity in mind and also to make it attractive for the people living here and cooling down of the area. - This is kind of working with nature in the context of the city. - Yes, yes, yes. So not a really technical solution, really working with nature, yeah, and I think this is more the future. - So when it comes to the future of our cities, whether they be ones of too little, too much, or just the right amount of water, we have a choice to make: Will we be the villains, or will we be the heroes of our own urban stories? That looks pretty good, doesn't it? But you know what, this water bottle actually says Dusty, so I think he wants to give it - Oh, there we go. - a try.