WASHING THE LAS VEGAS WASH
Not so long ago, the Las Vegas Wash carved its way through a southeast valley wasteland of illegal dump sites, homeless encampments and tangled forests of tamarisk shrubs.
"It was a wild and crazy place back then. You really didn't want to be out here alone," said Gerry Hester, who used to collect erosion data along the wash for the federal government. "I've been shot at several times."
What a difference a decade makes
Hester and about 80 others gathered Monday along the banks of a very different Las Vegas Wash to mark the 10th anniversary of the group responsible for the transformation.
The Las Vegas Wash Coordination Committee was formed in 1998 to restore and protect the wash, which drains the entire 1,600 square mile valley and carries all of the community's treated wastewater downstream to Lake Mead.
In the 1970s, Las Vegas Wash was bracketed by a 2,000 acre wetland teeming with birds. But as the valley's wastewater output grew, the increased flows cut a deepening channel through the desert, cutting off plants from their water supply and killing much of the wetlands. Meanwhile, downstream, Lake Mead's Las Vegas Bay was beginning to fill with millions of tons of sediment.
To tame the wash and slow its flow, the coordination committee has directed construction of 11 erosion control structures, or weirs, from just northwest of Sam Boyd Stadium to Lake Las Vegas. For flood protection, more than five miles of shoreline has been reinforced with boulders and chunks of concrete recycled from demolished hotel casinos and highway ramps.
Slower moving water carries less sediment and allows growth of wetland plants that help filter pollutants from the wash.
The newest structure, known as the Upper Diversion Weir, went on line in September just downstream from the spot where the Clark County Water Reclamation District releases its treated wastewater into the wash.
The weir is topped with a concrete and steel pedestrian bridge that connects the 130 acre Clark County Nature Preserve at the east end of Tropicana Avenue to a network of trails and picnic areas now being developed in a 2,900 acre area known as Wetlands Park.
Monday's event was held in a banquet tent at one end of the bridge, next to a grove of fledgeling mesquite trees and other native plants that weren't there two months ago.
A group of almost 600 volunteers planted the trees and shrubs 4,690 plants in all covering almost 13 acres during a Green-Up event Sept. 27. It was the 13th such event organized by the Las Vegas Wash Coordination Committee, which includes 30 community organizations and government entities headed by the Southern Nevada Water Authority.