Greening the Desert

An upscale development just 17 miles from the Las Vegas Strip is fast becoming one of the most unique resort destinations in the country. When it is fully developed, the 3,500-acre property will include six 18-hole golf courses, more than half a dozen residential communities, a yacht and beach club, two resort hotels and a unique European-style village.

Heart of the development is the 320-acre man-made Lake Las Vegas with more than 10 miles of shoreline and an earthen dam 18 stories high, built with 2.5 million cubic yards of earth and nearly as large as nearby Hoover Dam. Lake Las Vegas is approximately two miles long and up to 145 feet deep at its deepest point. It is the largest privately owned lake in Nevada.

Building the dam and lake required a special engineering feat. Lake Las Vegas is built in the “Las Vegas Wash,” the natural drainage way for run-off and wastewater from the Las Vegas Valley into Lake Mead, behind Hoover Dam. Engineers put in two 84-inch conduits for two miles underneath Lake Las Vegas to divert the effluent water. Although the effluent water today is filtered through treatment plants — two in Las Vegas and another one in Henderson — developers didn't want the effluent water dumping directly into Lake Las Vegas. Thus, the under-the-lake diversion lines.

Upscale homesites and resort facilities are located on both sides of the lake. Reflection Bay Golf & Beach Club on the north side is open to the public. South Shore Golf Club is a private 18-hole course on the south side. Both courses are Jack Nicklaus design, and South Shore hosted the Wendy's Three-Tour Challenge in 2001. In 2002, the Wendy's sponsored event took place at the new Falls Golf Course at Lake Las Vegas, a Tom Weiskopf design course that opened in August.

Reflection Bay Golf Club was named to Golf Digest's “Best New Upscale Public Course” in 1999, and SouthShore Golf Club was named by Golf & Travel magazine as one of “America's Best Top 40 Real Estate Courses” in 2000. Three more golf courses will be built as Lake Las Vegas Resort is fully developed over the next few years.


Average precipitation in the Las Vegas area is only about 4 inches annually, but the valley has seen scant rainfall the past couple years, much like many other areas of the country. Water conservation was a primary objective at Lake Las Vegas Resort from the initial development phases, but it has become even more a concern with the continuing drought.

Golf courses and lawn areas at the resort are watered by a combination of water from Lake Las Vegas blended with water purchased from the City of Las Vegas and piped in from Lake Mead. Part of the Lake Mead water is piped into Lake Las Vegas to maintain the pool, some is diverted to a 35-foot scenic waterfall and from there into ponds in several areas of the property which double as landscape aesthetics and irrigation water sources.

Some 80 percent of the grounds in the community and resort areas developed so far are planted to native desert vegetation, both to save water and to complement the natural landscape. Selected areas are planted to turf-type tall fescue, but the rest is landscaped with semi-native desert vegetation. “We thoroughly research all the plant materials before installing them,” says Stacy Fox, landscape supervisor for all residential areas at Lake Las Vegas Resort. “Naturally, the plants have to withstand dry weather and heat, but they also must hold up in colder conditions. The lake itself is at 1,400 feet elevation and the nights can get extremely chilly.”

Lake Las Vegas Resort grounds crews not only maintain the landscape, including some 40 acres of turfgrass, they also plant up to 1,000 flats of flowers around the resort area and change them at least four times a year! They also care for the 3,500 date palms that were moved to the resort. Maintaining the palm trees includes cutting out the fruit clusters each spring before they get large enough to attract a lot of birds.

Each golf course in the resort community has its own maintenance crew, but Fox and his workers take care of all golf course trees and shrubs, including maintaining the drip irrigation lines for golf course trees and shrubbery.

Grassed areas within the resort are watered three times daily, with carefully timed application schedules. “Runs with pop-up sprinkler heads generally water about five minutes at a time, while rotary heads typically water for about 12 minutes per application,” Fox says.

The entire irrigation system is computer controlled. There are 713 control valves in the system, each one controlling anywhere from 6 to 12 heads. The system's 31 field controllers are all computerized and linked to the Lake Las Vegas Resort on-site weather station. “Our weather instruments measure evapotranspiration rates, wind velocity and ambient temperatures, as well as the infrequent rainfall,” Fox says. The system also has an alarm that alerts the grounds staff if a sprinkler head stops working or one of the control valves fails to actuate.


Lake Las Vegas Resort's grounds maintenance staff includes a 14-person mowing crew, equipped with three mid-sized riding mowers with 36-inch cutting decks and grass handling systems for picking up clippings. Grass clippings are collected in an on-site dumpster, along with chipped tree and shrub trimmings, and picked up by a local company for composting.

Fox's equipment also includes eight 21-inch walk-behind mowers for trim work. The terrain is so hilly at Lake Las Vegas Resort that they had to switch to 2-cycle engines for the walk-behind mowers. Mowing along and around the slopes with 4-cycle engines was causing mower engines to burn out because lubricating oil wasn't getting to critical internal engine surfaces.

“The riding mowers haven't given us any trouble that way, and they are very stable on the hilly areas. They also are maneuverable enough that we can cut a lot of areas without trim mower follow-up.” Fox figures on four days of mowing to get the entire area cut.

“Thanks to the computer controlled watering system and our on-site weather station, we're able to keep the grass green and growing, as well as the native vegetation and the trees and shrubs on the property.”

Gary Burchfield (Lincoln, Neb.) is a freelance writer who specializes in grounds equipment.

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