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Midcentury Boom

Hoover Dam

1929 to 1952

The Great Depression actually brought growth to Southern Nevada, an unlikely candidate for urbanization due to its arid climate and limited water resources. But the U.S. government's Hoover Dam project brought a huge influx of people to the area from 1928 until 1936.

Drought and heavy demand for water put great pressure on the railroad's Las Vegas Land and Water Company. In 1935, Las Vegas Creek, which flowed from the springs, dried up in the summer and no water was available to irrigate the Stewart family ranch.

In 1936, the Las Vegas Land and Water Company drilled Well No. 2 into the spring mound south of the Las Vegas Creek, and piped the water to a reservoir. Only two years later, a major water shortage occurred despite predictions that water use would decline because people would leave town after Hoover Dam was completed.

Water Demand Increases

The invention of water-cooled air conditioners (swamp coolers) became a major problem in 1938. Most were homemade and not built to recycle water.

The City of Las Vegas and the railroad teamed up to curb water waste by encouraging conservation. The city adopted an ordinance punishing water wasters, assigned a patrolman to police the town's gutters, and the water company surveyed houses to identify problem faucets, toilets and coolers.

By 1940, Las Vegas' population had grown to 8,422. The outbreak of World War II brought the defense industry, including the U.S. Army Aerial Gunnery Range (now Nellis Air Force Base) and Basic Management, Inc. (BMI).

The 1922 Colorado River compact known as the "Law of the River" gave Southern Nevada rights to 300,000 acre feet of water from the river. BMI was the first to import Colorado River water from Lake Mead. Prior to this, the valley relied solely on groundwater.

Residents went through another water shortage in 1947. Frustrated with the Las Vegas Land and Water Company's inability to provide water as fast as the town grew, the people convinced the Nevada State Legislature to authorize the purchase of the entire water system.

In 1953, the Union Pacific Railroad sold the Las Vegas Land and Water Company to the newly-created, public Las Vegas Valley Water District for $2.5 million. The sale became final in 1953.

Photo courtesy of the UNLV Lied Library Special Collections Department.

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