Engineering a Well-Hydrated Future
The bad news: Last August, the federal government issued a water shortage declaration on the Colorado River resulting from low water levels at Lake Mead, leading to a reduction in Southern Nevada’s water allocation by seven billion gallons to 279,000 acre feet of water.
The good: Conservation efforts have been so successful in these parts that we only used 242,000 acre feet in 2021.
For Doa Meade Ross, deputy general manager of engineering for the Southern Nevada Water Authority and the Las Vegas Valley Water District, this means putting her engineering degree to good use.
“Obviously, living in Southern Nevada, water is as scarce as it can be, so having a very good, sophisticated system to be able to not just treat the water, but to deliver it without losing water, putting engineering to that is a real no-brainer,” said Ross, ’98 BS Civil Engineering. “Water does not flow uphill — all of our water comes from a lower elevation. It’s so essential, from an engineering standpoint, to have the appropriate facilities and infrastructure to be able to deliver water on demand at the tap or every fire hydrant as soon as everybody needs it.”
Ross was drawn to her field because she wanted a career where she could have a positive impact on the world around — and medicine wasn’t her thing.
“The sight of blood is not for me,” she chuckled. “So I chose to get into science and engineering.”
Her engineering background extends to SNWA projects aimed to counter even the most dire of scenarios, water-wise.
“We executed one of the largest drilling contracts in the country — if not the world at that time — to successfully complete a third intake at an elevation that allows us access to the water in Lake Mead, even if water can’t continue through Hoover Dam,” Ross said. “We have built infrastructure between that third intake and our low lake level pump station, which has the largest pumps of their kind in the world, to ensure Southern Nevada’s ability to access the water even in the worst drought scenario.”
Navigating the Colorado
Her grandfather was an engineer, even getting to work on some early space missions.
Engineering, then, was pretty much in Colby Pellegrino’s blood.
“I just kind of felt like, well, if my grandpa liked it, it might be a good thing for me to try on for size,” she says of pursuing the field. “And it stuck.”
As an undergrad, Pellegrino, ’04 BS Civil Engineering, landed an internship in the water resources lab run by former professor Thomas Piechota. That put her on a direct path to the Southern Nevada Water Authority and the Las Vegas Valley Water District, where she’s the deputy general manager of resources.
At SNWA, she spends much of her time on Colorado River policy and negotiations.
“We sit right next to the Colorado River, and we return almost all of the water that we use indoors, so we have really have to focus on our outdoor consumptive water uses and be the most water efficient city in the desert Southwest when it comes to way we use and manage our outdoor spaces,” Pellegrino said.
“Those are all the things that the agency has been doing for 20 years, getting rid of turf where it doesn’t belong, managing our irrigation systems, fixing and repairing leaks. Those will continue to be the most important things this community can do to protect our water resources.”