Las Vegas Sun

August 1, 2014

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2020 Vision:

Environmental activist: Rise in appreciation for state’s natural splendor

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Leila Navidi

Jeff Van Ee stands near the Pittman Wash in Henderson on Dec. 19.

We’re at a crossroads, economically and certainly environmentally. This is the point where we have a choice: Do we go forward with more responsible and efficient use of our resources while diversifying the economy? Or do we wait for the economy to rebound and simply pick up where we left off? The economic upheaval of the past year has caused a lot of people to pause and reconsider what the future will look like, in Las Vegas especially. Some leaders are looking beyond what’s comfortable — construction and gaming — and seeing this as an opportunity to grow something new, something better for Nevada in the long term.

I think one of the most significant things we’ll see in 10 years is an expansion of the green building philosophy. We have a number of high-profile Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-certified buildings and as people see the benefits of that type of building, I think we’ll see a lot more LEED-certified buildings, both new and retrofitted. I think that will carry over into people’s homes as they’re able to afford energy and water saving updates and retrofits that can save them money in the long run. That opens the door for a lot of ingenuity and many, many jobs.

In 10 years we’ll be able to use less water and electricity — and we’ll likely have to. All the climate models indicate we’re going to see more drought in the Colorado River Basin, and we are almost entirely dependent on the snowpack in Colorado for our drinking water in Las Vegas. I think people in Southern Nevada are just beginning to really understand what that means. I think we’re going to see more people learning to conserve water not only in landscaping, but indoors as well.

Air quality will continue to be an issue. It hasn’t been too bad most days this year, but we still get the “Vegas haze.” If sources of air pollution aren’t reined in as the economy recovers and construction begins again, it could have a devastating effect on the resort community as well as public health. So I think there could be some improved air quality regulations.

I see increasing visitation of our national recreation areas and wild lands and I think that will continue through 2020. In the recession people have rediscovered Nevada’s outdoor wonders. And with all the emphasis this year on national parks, I think we’ll see an increase in interest in our national recreation areas and parks in Nevada. We’re also trying to get a more coordinated trails system here that will encourage locals to get out into the desert, to connect with the desert environment and with each other. We want to build a “Great Circle” — a trails system that would lasso the Las Vegas metropolitan area connecting to Lake Mead, Red Rock, Tule Springs, Gold Butte and local outdoor hot spots.

That’s significant because we’ll lose much of the open space in this part of the state to renewable energy plants over the next decade. I think Nevada will have a lot more renewable energy generated by 2020, and we’ll be evaluating how those plants have affected Nevada culture, economics, landscape, wildlife and lifestyles. Solar plants and wind farms create emission-free energy, but they affect the land and the wildlife as well as the people who live here. I think in 2020 we’ll be evaluating how we want that industry to develop in the future.

Jeff Van Ee is a longtime Nevada environmental activist and a trustee for Outside Las Vegas.

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