Water Supply

Photograph of an artesian well at Ernie Cragin Home, circa 1946

“Most of the ground water used in the three valleys is obtained from wells and springs and is supplied by the gravel and sand lenses of the valley fill. In Las Vegas more than three-fourths of the wells draw water from aquifers ranging from 250 to 450 feet below land surface, designated as the Shallow Zone of aquifers.


What is the significance of the depth of the aquifers and surrounding rock types from which water is drawn?

The only source of ground water for the three valleys is precipitation on the higher areas of the Spring and Sheep Mountains. However only a small part of the precipitation recharges the alluvial-fan and valley-fill materials that compose the ground-water reservoirs. The rest of the water from precipitation on the area is lost by evaporation and transpiration. The water that reaches the ground-water reservoirs is ultimately discharged through springs and wells and by evaporation and transpiration.”

Maxey and Jameson, Geology and Water Resources of Las Vegas, Pahrump, and Indian Spring Valleys, Clark and Nye Counties, Nevada,  1948

First artesian well in the Las Vegas Valley on the Taylor Ranch, before 1910First artesian well in Las Vegas Valley, before 1910.

 “I hear there is a chance to get a contract drilling water wells in Las Vegas, as water is very scarce in that part...” 

George Wynecook, Bakersfield, CA  to E.G. Tilton, chief engineer, SP,LA, & SL Railroad, letter,  August 29, 1906

 “Answering your letter of Aug. 29th in regard to drilling wells at Las Vegas, this company has no intention of drilling and wells there. As to whether or not anyone else is, I am unable to say. An abundance of water is received by gravity from springs in the neighborhood.” 

Tilton to Wynecook, letter, August 31, 1906

 “Our attention has been directed to the fact that the water supply at Las Vegas is becoming inadequate...”

Pacific Fruit Express Co. [owners of the Ice plant] to Walter Bracken, letter,  November 11, 1922

“One of the most vital and pressing questions confronting the City of Las Vegas is the matter of an increase of water supply and the extension of the water mains to subdivisions which are very badly in need of water, (as some have none), therefore holding back the upbuilding of these subdivisions. Many are now complaining that they have not water enough for family use under the present water system in said subdivisions. The City Board would like to hear from the Las Vegas Land & Water Company, as to what steps it intends to take, if any, in regard to further supply of water . . . “ 

W.H. Dentner, Las Vegas Mayor pro Tem. to Bracken, letter, March 20, 1923

“I respectfully submit herewith an estimate which I believe will cover the rehabilitation of the eighteen hundred acre ranch at Las Vegas, Nevada, owned jointly by the Railroad Company and the Las Vegas Land and Water Company, and make it not only a productive, but demonstration ranch second to none in the west.  In this case the dominant interest IS PROTECTION OF OUR WATER RIGHTS to conform to our Nevada State laws, and second…

Walter R. Bracken to E.E. Calvin, letter, March 9, 1926

“we have an abundance of water for the being, but the facilities for conducting the water to the Railroad and Townsite are inadequate . . . Next year if the town continues to grow as it has in the past, and the Boulder Canyon Dam Bill should be passed, it would possibly double our population . . .

Walter R. Bracken to Howard C. Mann, Chief Engineer UP System, letter, April 26, 1928


 Man sitting near artesian well, probably Old RanchArtesian well, early 1900s.

 “While we are anxious to keep pace with genuine development, we have learned from experience that careful judgment must be exercised in considering requests for water main extensions. By this I mean we do not intend to extend water mains into vacant blocks on the outskirts of the city, thereby increasing the value of such lots at the expense of the Water Company. The result of such action on our part has been that the owner immediately increases the sale price of his lots to the point where it is prohibitive, thereby depriving the water company of potential customers . .  Where there is a genuine development on outlying districts that would justify our extending our water mains therein at our own expense, appropriate requests for such investment will be submitted when we can justify a favorable return of earnings thereon.”

Walter Bracken to Frank Strong, Vice-President of LVL&W Co. in Los Angeles, letter, April 11, 1940

“There will be a tremendous development in the immediate area surrounding Las Vegas as a result of expanding national defense. There is no place in America which will develop and develop as fast as Las Vegas in the near future. Whether this development goes as far as is now indicated it will, depends largely on an adequate water supply . . . We can develop enough water from underground sources for ordinary use, but for big operations such as are now planned for Las Vegas there is only one source that is sufficient – Lake Mead.”

W.M. Jeffers, President of UP System, address to the Las Vegas Rotary Club, June 18, 1941


There appears to be an ongoing conflict within the water company—a need for more water and a need to extend water mains to outlying areas due to increased population. What methods for balancing these needs have been used throughout the history of the three valleys and how do the results of those decisions affect contemporary water issues in Southern Nevada? What can we learn from a century of decision-making related to the conflict?

“The rapid increase in population in the Las Vegas Valley, beginning in 1941, caused an apparent critical water shortage there, and in Pahrump Valley increased agricultural development resulted in further exploitation of ground-water supplies. The purpose of the study upon which this report is based was to determine the occurrence, source, and amount of ground water available in the three valleys (Las Vegas, Pahrump, Indian Springs). Water levels have declined in the valley. They may be expected to continue to decline until the cones of depression in the piezometric or pressure-indicating surface, caused by withdrawal of water from wells and springs have grown sufficiently to intercept the amount of recharge necessary to balance the total withdrawals of ground water.”

Maxey and Jameson, Geology and Water resources of Las Vegas, Pahrump, and Indian Spring Valleys, Clark and Nye Counties, Nevada, 1948