LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — As Las Vegas continues to grow, maintaining air quality will need to be a priority to ensure that residents with respiratory issues are able to safely call the valley home.
Humans first made their way to this part of Southern Nevada an estimated 15,000 years ago, thanks to an artesian well at what is now the Springs Preserve that supplied needed groundwater in the middle of our harsh Mojave Desert climate.
This water also proved useful more recently, as Mormon settlers arrived in the valley in the mid-1800s, and was the primary reason the railroad settled here as a stop between Salt Lake City and Southern California to fill up their steam engines.
While groundwater is no longer the primary water source for the more than two million people who call Las Vegas home, it is a testament to the fact that the resources we rely on for survival now might not necessarily be there in the future.
As Las Vegas plans for future growth, experts say the keys to sustainable development include smart waste management, continued water conservation and developing clean and reliable energy sources.
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Many drivers are making the switch to electric vehicles, but ensuring that our air quality remains livable for all of our population is the primary focus of the Department of Environment and Sustainability of Clark County.
Kevin MacDonald helps track air quality for the county, and says that transportation continues to be the number one source of air pollution in Nevada and that we have a perfect oven to cook ozone: Pollutants from vehicles and the sun and heat all mix in a bowl — creating ozone.
Factors like geography, topography and climate are stacked against pristine air quality in Las Vegas, including wildfire smoke that often drifts in from other states.
That said, the data shows that our mitigation efforts are working: Ozone has decreased 14% since 2007, even though the population has increased by one million people since then.
"We are seeing in the modeling that pollutants will decrease," MacDonald said. "The building blocks of ozone are volatile organic compounds and oxides of nitrogen, and both of those over the next twenty years will continue to decrease according to our modeling."
MacDonald says that moving toward reliable, clean energy sources like solar, as well as more people moving from gas-powered to electric vehicles is helping, but buying a new electric vehicle isn't realistic for most families.
Other simple habits can help cut down on emissions: Keeping up with your emissions testing each year, filling your gas tank early in the morning or late in the day after sunset, and mapping out efficient routes when running errands can all make a difference.
Cinthia Moore works with the group Moms Clean Air Force and has an important reason to care about air quality.
"My son is the reason I became aware of air quality," Moore said. "When he was born we used to live close to Lone Mountain, and when he turned about a year old we moved to the east side of Las Vegas and that's when I started noticing he was having allergic reactions. And when it's really windy he starts having breathing problems."
Moore says she uses multiple air purifiers in her home, and she limits her son's time outside when the air quality is poor. She also advocates for clean air quality on the local, state, and federal levels with the group Moms Air Force.
Dr. Lloyd Del Mundo, a pulmonologist at Valley Hospital Medical Center, says he has seen an increase in patients with breathing issues as our city has grown.
"The smog causes inflammation in your lungs, and infects the lining of the lungs and the airways, which in turn causes you to get infections much easier, and causes you to cough more, and basically reduces the quality of your lung function," Del Mundo said.
As the population of Las Vegas continues to grow, and more gas-powered vehicles pack our roads, our community's efforts to maintain and improve our air quality will take even more intention.
“We're always looking for new efforts and initiatives to implement for cleaner air. We continue to install new monitoring stations in different parts of the valley so we can see what's happening where the population is growing. And we're looking at implementing other incentive programs with our permitted business community to help lower pollutants in the air," McDonald said.
As we go about our everyday lives, the most important thing we can do is try to decrease our carbon footprint, and increase our awareness of how many resources we use.
The now dried-up water source at the Springs Preserve is symbolic of the fact that just because something is here today it doesn't mean it will be here tomorrow.
Whether it's the water that we need to survive in the desert, or the clean air that we breathe, protecting our natural resources is key to making sure that Las Vegas is a safe and healthy home for generations to come.
Our series, “Las Vegas: Meadows to Metropolis,” looks to answer that question. Tune in to 13 Action News at 6 p.m. throughout the month of November for in-depth reporting on how rapid growth impacts Las Vegans.