MGM Resorts International
Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016 | 10:30 p.m.
When MGM Resorts set out to build Park — its eight-acre promenade that will connect New York-New York and Monte Carlo — the company made water conservation a top priority.
Cindy Ortega, MGM’s senior vice president and chief sustainability officer, said she directed an employee to make the outdoor entertainment area an “example of good water use” by applying the best technologies to the project. It wasn’t an easy task.
“We had such a difficult time finding an array of technologies,” Ortega said Wednesday during the Jewish National Fund’s Las Vegas Water Summit.
Park, which is scheduled to open in April, will feature drought-tolerant plants and water-saving technologies, such as a drip-irrigation system. But Ortega said the gaming company’s journey highlights a glaring gap in sustainability efforts: Why is it easy to secure technology to promote energy efficiency but difficult to find water-smart technologies?
That dynamic could be changing.
Leveraging technology to address the global water crisis dominated much of the conversation at the water summit. The daylong event drew key water leaders such as Pat Mulroy, the former general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, and Seth Siegel, author of “Let There Be Water: Israel’s Solution for a Water-Starved World,” which became a New York Times bestseller.
The JNF chose 12 major U.S. cities, including Las Vegas, to host water summits to share Israel’s technological advancements and accomplishments. (The Las Vegas Sun was one of several sponsors of the summit.)
“The world is at a crossroads,” Siegel said during his keynote address. “We could end up in a very, very bad situation.”
The United Nations estimates that two-thirds of the world’s population could be living under water-stressed conditions by 2025, with about 1.8 billion people living in regions with “absolute water scarcity.”
Given the grim diagnoses, Siegel said he began exploring solutions and kept coming back to Israel, a once water-deprived nation with a growing population that turned water conservation into a national priority. The efforts led to Israel becoming a global leader in water policy and technologies, both big and small, that have helped the Middle Eastern nation overcome its difficulties.
“We have a real-world example of a country that is very dry that came from incredible water scarcity … that has managed to figure out a way to have such a depth of water abundance,” Siegel said. “That’s something very inspiring. I hope we take lessons from Israel and apply them very widely.”
Nevada already has embarked on that path. Water leaders say it’s a no-brainer given Southern Nevada’s similar arid environment, uncertain water future and willingness to adopt innovative strategies.
The Nevada Center of Excellence, a nonprofit established in 2013 to commercialize water technology in the state, has forged partnerships with two Israeli water-technology companies, which expect to grow their businesses in the state. Ayyeka produces sensors that can monitor water temperatures and levels in remote storage tanks; Outlocks makes highly secure locking units that work well for water-utility companies.
The water center is discussing similar partnerships with other foreign companies, including many from Israel, based on the water needs and opportunities identified in Nevada, said Steve Hill, director of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.
“We think we have found an exceptional match with Israel,” he said.
Water-technology alone won’t solve all the challenges. Water officials say a mindset shift is just as important, but that’s hinged on engaging people.
To that end, MGM launched a social application that educated employees about water conservation and encouraged them to make smarter choices, Ortega said.
People need to understand that their actions — whether it’s littering, not cleaning up after their pets or over-fertilizing — negatively impact the region’s water supply, said Steve Parrish, general manager and chief engineer of the Clark County Regional Flood Control District.
“If we don’t change human behavior, it’s an uphill climb,” he said.