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Assessing Drought Risk and Vulnerability

Las Vegas, Nevada

Featured image for the project, Assessing Drought Risk and Vulnerability

Courtesy of the city of Las Vegas


The Team

The Initial Challenge:

The City of Las Vegas (CLV) identified four “Key Planning Areas” that are vulnerable to Climate Change and particularly sensitive to three natural phenomena related to it: Drought, Extreme Heat, and Extreme Precipitation Events. For this reason, the City collaborated with Southern Illinois University (SIU) and Ajay Kalra in order to develop a Vulnerability and Climate Adaptation Plan that will be incorporated into the future update of the Las Vegas Master Plan. The Plan assesses the present and future climate-related scenarios in the Southern Nevada regional context, and identifies a series of adaptation strategies that the City shall pursue in order to adapt and maintain a high quality level of city operations for residents, businesses, and visitors alike in the face of a changing climate.


The Methods:

In 2015, Las Vegas joined the STAR network as a 4-STAR Certified Community; as such, a main driver for this project has been the desire to follow the STAR’s system actions and best practices and produce and adopt a local Climate change Plan. After benchmarking against similar efforts the type of document the City of Las Vegas wanted to produce, the team identified the elements of the “Key Planning Areas” vulnerable to Climate Change and split research topics based on the group’s expertise. Dr. Kalra let the SIU group on technical research related to water resources and stormwater management utilizing state of the art modeling softwares; CLV staff utilized literature sources and its regional expertise to investigate the current and future trends for extreme heat and its effect on emergency management and energy. 

In order to complete this project, the team used local geodatabases (internal), climate-related literature (IPCC documents as well as regional and state agencies reports), data collected from EPA and NOAA websites.

After preliminary correspondence, the project kicked off with an in-person meeting between the two teams that helped set up the project’s Scope of Work and a timeline. After that, most meetings between team members happened remotely, via conference call or video call; these calls happened on a bi-weekly basis throughout the whole duration of the project, and every month were also attended by TEX staff. Two representatives of each team group as well as TEX staff were also able to meet during the 2016 AGU conference in San Francisco. The project begun in June 2016 and was completed in February 2017.


The Results:

The collaboration resulted in a plan, which includes goals and recommendations.

Because of this project, climate change vulnerabilities and adaptation strategies will be incorporated into the next update of the citywide Masterplan. The project also helped to raise awareness on climate-related risks among stakeholders and residents.

The Plan outline and model can be used as a template by other jurisdictions to develop a similar analysis. Regional partners within the Las Vegas Valley will be able to make use of the project’s findings and establish similar recommended policies. Water resources analysis and engineers will be able to gain technical insight on the type of analysis performed by Dr. Kalra and the SIU group.



The team attributed the following to the successful completion of their project:

  • Frequent meetings to check-in on the project status and adjust timelines when needed.
  • A clear Scope of Work that the team finalized shortly after the first meeting.
  • A great match between SIU’s technical expertise on water resources and the needs of the Las Vegas region.

If they were to do this project again, one thing they might do differently would be to enrich the project with more local community involvement and input.

For others interested in pursuing a similar community science project, the Las Vegas team recommends to:

  • Identify early on the proposed outcome, deliverables and roles in the process
  • Be able and willing to adjust and re-evaluate project elements
  • Keep a constant communication channel between team members as well as frequent check-ins


Las Vegas Scope of Work (July 2016)


The Challenge

The City of Las Vegas uses a lot of water despite having fewer sources of water. Yet, between 2002 and 2014, despite an increased population, the City managed to cut its consumption of Colorado river water by 30%. In 2013, the City conducted the Southern Nevada Extreme Events Assessment through sit-down interviews with representatives of key sectors of the community. Using extreme event scenarios (drought, extreme heat, and flash flooding), sensitivity and adaptive capacity were assessed to quantify the vulnerability levels of these systems to extreme low lake levels, an extreme heat wave, and an extreme storm event. The outcomes of the assessment interviews were combined ranking scores for vulnerability and risk. Risk scoring considered recovery periods, associated costs, and other factors.


Although this effort has been a good first step towards developing a regional vulnerability and risk assessment, the City of Las Vegas Planning Department would like to take concrete steps towards a regional vulnerability risk assessment starting with drought.


Las Vegas at AGU Fall Meeting

Lorenzo Mastino attended the 2016 AGU Fall Meeting in San Francisco, CA to present a poster highlighting recent accomplishments and next steps for the Las Vegas TEX project. Click here to download his poster!


Assessment of Vulnerability to Climate Change Effects on Urban Stormwater Infrastructure in City of Las Vegas, NV

vegas-posterIn the spring of 2016 the City of Las Vegas and the Southern Illinois University began collaborating on a project that seeks to assess the city’s current vulnerability to drought, extreme heat, and extreme precipitation patterns, as well as the response mechanisms that are already in place within its jurisdiction. The document analyzes a series of scenarios to assess to what extent the vulnerability of four Key Planning Areas will change in the long term (30-50 years), what will be the most affected city operations, and what mechanisms the City will need to put into place to adapt to such changes. As part of the vulnerability report, this study assessed the impacts of climate change in the existing stormwater system of the Gowan watershed within City of Las Vegas, NV, by assessing projected design storms. The climate change projection for the region was evaluated using the high-resolution North American Regional Climate Change Assessment Program (NARCCAP) climate model data. The design storms (6h 100y) were calculated using the best fitted probability distribution among twenty-seven distributions for the historic and future NARCCAP climate model projection. North American Regional Reanalysis (NARR) data were used to assess the performance of NARCCAP data. The projected design storms were implemented in an existing U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Hydrologic Engineering Center Hydrologic Modeling System (HEC-HMS) model developed by Clark County Regional Flood Control District (CCRFCD), Las Vegas. The simulation results showed an increase in the design storms which exceeded the capacity of existing stormwater infrastructure.


Las Vegas Team Assesses Climate Data

Las Vegas Develops a Scope of Work for its Drought Vulnerability Assessment

All updates for this project

Project Team

The Community Lead


Marco Velotta is a City Planner for Las Vegas. As such, he helps plan and implement the city’s Sustainability Initiative for the mayor, city council, city manager, and chief sustainability officer. Marco works on all aspects of sustainability, ranging from city operations to the community and region, including renewable energy, energy efficiency, water conservation, recycling, transportation and overall community quality of life.

The Scientific Liaison

2015-09-10-1 - Ajay Kalra - Civil and Environmental Engineering

Dr. Ajay Kalra Earned his PhD at University of Las Vegas Nevada, and is currently a professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Southern Illinois University. His research interests include hydro-climatology, urban sustainability, water resources management, drought frequency, and probabilistic forecasting & downscaling.


Las Vegas Scope of Work Download

Joshi, N.; Tamaddun, K.; Parajuli, R.; Kalra, A.; Maheshwari, P.; Mastino, L.; Velotta, M. Future Changes in Water Supply and Demand for Las Vegas Valley: A System Dynamic Approach based on CMIP3 and CMIP5 Climate Projections. Hydrology 2020, 7, 16. Download