Lonely Planet Writer

How this Las Vegas exhibit combines water conservation and entertainment

Las Vegas might be in the middle of the Mojave Desert, the driest part of North America, but it’s now also a leading destination to learn about the importance of H2O at the new WaterWorks exhibit in the Springs Preserve. Opened recently in mid-September 2017, it’s a 24,000-sq ft facility that’s part of a vast working plumbing system that feeds a metropolis of more than 2 million residents—and 42 million visitors yearly—with everything from refreshing showers in the morning and green golf courses in the afternoon to the glorious spectacle of the Bellagio Fountains in the evening. And, of course, drinking water 24/7.

Las Vegas water conservation exhibit delivers in an entertaining way
Entrance to WaterWorks Las Vegas. Photo by Greg Thilmont

The Las Vegas region, especially the Strip, gets almost all of its water from the mighty Colorado River and Lake Mead , the reservoir formed by famous Hoover Dam nearby. It’s a resource that has been dwindling over the decades, though. At WaterWorks, visitors can see how water upstream from the distant Rocky Mountains is piped to faucets, sinks, swimming pools, toilets, and beyond downstream—and then how that same water is preserved, treated, and re-piped back upstream to the city. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

The famous Hoover Dam nearby. Image by Getty Images

Highlights of the exhibit include an interactive diorama controlling the weather, plus hands-on simulations of the scientific methods used to keep Las Vegas’ water drinkable, like detecting harmful waterborne microorganisms and measuring the ozone treatments that zap them out of existence. The view onto the immense main water pipe-filled chamber looks like something out of a futuristic movie. On a wider horizon, WaterWorks thoughtfully addresses the issue of water scarcity and its access on a global scale, too.

With its interactivity, WaterWorks is geared to curious adults and adventurous kids alike. And in creative style, it was significantly funded by One Drop Foundation (onedrop.org), an organization created by an artistic visionary central to modern Las Vegas entertainment: Cirque du Soleil‘s founder, Guy Laliberté.

The exhibit is inside an operational water pumping facility. Image by Spring Preserve Flickr

One Drop executive Marie-Claude Bourgie attended the September opening of WaterWorks from Montréal, and was impressed with how it fused environmental awareness with a Southern Nevada travel experience.

“Clearly Las Vegas is in the desert, and has its own water issues and challenges. It is very interesting to see these state-of-the-art facilities and to see how Las Vegas has one of the most developed systems in the world,” said Bourgie. “The way they have combined that with the water scarcity issues in the developing world is very interesting.”

WaterWorks is open daily from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., and is included with admission to the Springs Preserve, a 180-acre cultural institution that includes many other exhibits in a surprisingly verdant desert landscape near historic Downtown Las Vegas. As a bonus, admission also includes entrance to the equally fascinating and educational Nevada State Museum

By: Greg Thilmont