"The combination of the pump and motor on these units are capable of lifting water from lower elevations while also meeting the necessary flow requirements for the pumping station," she says. "These pumping units are custom-made and require some modifications to current designs to meet our needs." Station construction is set for completion in 2020.

SNWA also is considering other large-scale construction projects, including a variety of 300-mile pipelines, to alleviate the strain on the Colorado. Since the 1980s, there have been proposals to create connections to aquifers in Spring Valley State Park or Great Basin National Park, but none have yet been able to move beyond the planning stage or courtroom challenge.

For example, in February, the Nevada Supreme Court ordered the state's engineer to recalculate how much water could be pumped from the northern aquifers before it drained the basins and impacted other users' water rights. Currently, the case is pending an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

SNWA spokesman Bronson Mack says the groundwater development project, which will increase southern Nevada's water-resources portfolio by about 25% and provide a water supply independent of the drought-stricken Colorado River, is advancing through the permitting process. "This project is southern Nevada's water safety net," he says.

If the pipelines were built today at an estimated construction cost of more than $15 billion, completion would take 10 to 15 years. The billions of gallons of water the pipelines would add annually to the Las Vegas system would serve 300,000 homes.

The water agency also is moving on smaller projects to ensure supply. In cooperation with the Desert Research Institute, SNWA is testing a new leak detection system for one of the oldest water lines in the area: a 30-in. pipe under Las Vegas Boulevard that serves several resorts on The Strip. The system uses cellular service to provide real-time monitoring. SNWA says Las Vegas loses less than 5% to leaks every year, but the program likely will be expanded if it is successful.

Agency General Manager John Entsminger says the region's future water needs will be met through cooperation among the states that depend on the Colorado River; more construction is inevitable. "Although we believe we are in a good position because of our resources and infrastructure, that doesn't mean the region is," he says.

Mulroy believes that projects using advanced engineering principles will continue to be a factor in solving the region's water woes. "Those who say the time for engineered projects are over, that it is an outdated concept, are wrong," she says. "Policy, engineering and science have to work in tandem on solutions."