The Historic Landscape of Nevada: Development, Water, and the Natural Environment

The persistence of the natural landscape and predominantly arid ecology of Nevada has created one of the greatest challenges facing the people of Nevada and the American West as we struggle to maintain our built environment. This project, The Historic Landscape of Nevada: Development, Water and the Natural Environment, documents the historic role of water resource management in Southern Nevada.

Since the nineteenth century, when the U.S. government first sent scientific expeditions to explore, map, and record the West, a voluminous record has been made of this landscape and the potential to exploit (and sometimes protect) it. Whether through irrigation, ranching, agriculture, dams, railroads, highways, towns, cities, or federal installations, the people of Nevada have challenged the environment in their attempt to make a desert flourish.

From the natural springs that attracted the earliest inhabitants and travelers, to the wells that supported early town development, to the massive federal reclamation projects that dammed the Colorado River to irrigate the California and Arizona deserts, water ruled. With the unparalleled, unexpected, and unplanned growth of the Las Vegas metropolitan area, the development of an urban and regional water system to support it has dominated natural resource planning and exploitation. The basic issues of water use—its quantity, quality, and allocation—still dominate policy and politics in Nevada and the Southwest, as Las Vegas seeks to tap surface and ground water sources in outlying counties and adjoining states, and as the original co-signers of the Colorado River Compact wrangle over the allocations from the dwindling water supplies of Lakes Mead and Powell.

Primary Source Sets for Educators


This collection contains several Primary Source sets designed to immediately connect educators with historical materials. These sets build on the wealth of digitized material in the Historic Landscape of Nevada and can be used to supplement teaching in a wide range of disciplines including: geoscience, math, political science, environmental science, history, and more! Use primary source sets to help reveal the deeper issues and most complex narratives of Nevada's historic landscape.

These sets of digitized images were selected and organized around key themes from the collection and provide educational focal points using five to ten historical documents that relate to a single theme (e.g., “Water Conservation”). Each set includes: a textual overview of the resources within the primary source set and a collection of suggestions for using the primary source set for learner enrichment. Each set also includes a timeline placing the material in historical context and visually representing the events in chronological order.

Choose one of the sets above or see our For Educators page to get started using the collection.