Meet the Las Vegas teens facing Western drought head on

(LtoR) Katie Kim, Fisher Parry and Kira Anderson with the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s Youth Conservation Council are on hand to volunteer their time at an Earth Day event at Springs Preserve on Saturday, April 20, 2024, in Las Vegas. (L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Review-Journal)

The West has experienced what’s been called “mega-drought” for longer than they’ve been alive.

Each year brings new record-hot temperatures, lower water levels at Lake Meadstate in-fighting on the Colorado River and more uncertainty about the longevity of their hometown.

And yet, with limited lessons available at their schools, these Gen Z Las Vegans have taken it upon themselves to learn about the water crisis in its entirety, no holds barred.

These students are the centerpiece of a lesser-known initiative of the Southern Nevada Water Authority — the Youth Conservation Council, a 16-week program for high school students that helps expand young people’s understanding of water.

“It gives them an outlet and shows them that what we do actually makes a difference in conservation,” said Abigail Phillips, a Springs Preserve conservation educator and Las Vegas native who has led the program for nearly a decade. “These kids are a testament to that.”

Throughout the year, they toured a water reclamation facility, the Las Vegas Wash and the Hoover Dam; discussed career paths with water authority employees; and planned the annual Springs Preserve Earth Day celebration that took place on Saturday.

“It gives them an outlet and shows them that what we do actually makes a difference in conservation.”

Abigail Phillips, Springs Preserve

Youth outreach is almost as old as the water authority itself — three years ago, the current initiative replaced the Youth Advisory Council that was founded in 1999. That council focused more on one-off conservation projects in the community, Phillips said.

Today, the program of about 30 students is geared toward career readiness and outreach, leading up to Earth Day, which is celebrated annually on April 22.

At the end of this school year’s program, the Las Vegas Review-Journal caught up with some of these dynamic teens, who all said they see a path forward for a region whose leaders have worked hard to secure water for their generation’s future.

Katie Kim, 18

She may have spent the better part of her high school experience nagging her parents and friends about their lawns and sprinkler systems, but it’s paid off for Katie Kim — she’s off to Cornell University in the fall to study civil engineering.

“It’s easy to say that it’s someone else’s problem,” Kim said of drought. “Young people at least need to stay informed.”

The Faith Lutheran High School senior has spent three years on the water authority’s student council. Kim’s involvement inspired her to apply for the agency’s paid […]

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