Main content

Once Was Water

Las Vegas, in the middle of the Mojave Desert, is the driest city in America, yet it leads the United States in sustainable water conservation. The efforts of Las Vegas, in its search for sustainability, have produced promising solutions--technological, political, and financial--providing an on-going global model for any city creating their own sustainable water system.

Everything to do with Las Vegas's water supply and disposal is watched, measured and checked. 40% of the water is recycled for indoor use. Every drop is monitored acoustically to detect possible leaks within 6,500 miles of pipes. The film follows the story of Patricia Mulroy, the controversial founder of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, whose leadership is shaping Colorado River politics, providing a path to safety in the face of intensifying water scarcity.

In addition to a complex and visionary system of recycling wastewater, Southern Nevada's conservation efforts have generated a keen public awareness, and spawned hands-on programs in the public schools to teach about food-growing and water use in the desert.

'Once Was Water is a fascinating look at what it takes to make a city bloom and thrive in the desert. It's a great kickoff to a community or classroom discussion about fresh water - how we use, manage and value it, and how to ensure we have enough for the future.' Sandra Postel, Director, Global Water Policy Project, Author, Replenish: The Virtuous Cycle of Water and Prosperity

'Absolutely fantastic...A compelling and inspiring film that shows how the lessons learned by Las Vegas and the Southern Nevada Water Authority offer hope for solving the looming global water crisis. Once Was Water both educates and enlightens, demonstrating how cities, communities and water authorities can band together to avert growing water scarcity. A must for anyone who wants to know where the water in our taps comes from, and how to use it more sustainably.' Edward Barbier, Professor of Economics, Senior Scholar of Global Environmental Sustainability, Colorado State University, Author, The Water Paradox: Overcoming the Global Crisis in Water Management

'A fascinating exploration of one city's historic campaign to conserve water. This inspiring story of how Las Vegas made peace with nature is a twenty-first century guide to sustainability. Once Was Water is a must-see for anyone interested in water, the environment, and improving their community.' David Soll, Associate Professor, Watershed Institute, University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire, Author, Empire of Water: An Environmental and Political History of the New York Water Supply

'One of the pivotal issues of our time...Water is the central character in Las Vegas' past, present, and future. It also plays a starring role in the city and the region's economy, culture, and politics. While this may be true in many places, what is different in this geography is the tremendous innovation and creativity taking place to do more with less, the collective sense of urgency that time is running out, and the determination of many to make a difference. We can find a better path forward with water at its heart.' Nicole Silk, President and CEO, River Network

'With Las Vegas as the prism, Once Was Water is an educational documentary, not preachy but unmistakably clear that water is our most precious resource and we must do a better job in using and protecting it. Most viewers will be surprised because, behind the mirage of the Bellagio Fountain, is the reality of cutting-edge water conservation and reuse programs.' Robert Glennon, Professor of Law and Public Policy, University of Arizona, Author, Unquenchable: America's Water Crisis and What To Do About It

'As a plant biologist and sometimes frustrated drylands gardener, I was impressed with the film's ability to show how water conservation permeates the culture of Las Vegas from casinos to schools. Primary school teachers will appreciate seeing how water efficient school gardens empower student learning, while college educators will appreciate how the film conveys the interconnected nature of sustainable operations.' Jacqueline Grant, Assistant Professor of Biology, Director, Garth and Jerri Frehner Museum of Natural History, Southern Utah University


Main credits

Beaver, Chris (film director)
Beaver, Chris (editor of moving image work)
Beaver, Chris (videographer)
Fuller, Diana (film producer)

Other credits

Editors, Christopher Beaver, Maureen Gosling; camera: Christopher Beaver; original music, Jacob Bloomfield-Misrach.

Docuseek2 subjects

Distributor subjects

Climate Change/Global Warming
Environmental Ethics
Global Issues
Green Building
Local Economies
Natural Resources
Public Administration
Social Psychology
Urban Studies
Urban and Regional Planning


Las Vegas, sustainable water solutions, thirsty city, driest state in US, proactive solutions, conserving water, redistributing water, 17-year drought, expanding population, example for desert regions, monitoring water, detecting leaks, recycling water for indoor use, Lake Mead,; Patricia Mulroy, Southern Nevada Water Authority, Colorado River, water scarcity, water sustainability, the strip, experimentation, models for survival; "Once Was Water"; Bullfrog Films

Related Films

Chasing Water

Breathtaking photography tells the story of the Colorado River, which…


Contrasts sci-fi ideas about terraforming Mars with the state of NYC's…

Water On The Table

An intimate portrait of international water activist Maude Barlow and…