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What is the Wash?
Channel Stabilization

Erosion

Erosion is perhaps the greatest threat to the Las Vegas Wash, and therefore is one of the biggest challenges being addressed by the Las Vegas Wash Coordination Committee.

Increased erosion results in fewer wetlands to polish the water before it enters Lake Mead. Wetlands are often considered the "kidneys" of a stream channel; because of their role in filtering sediment and other contaminants from the flows.

In addition to the potential effects on water quality, a decrease in wetlands also has an effect on habitat in the Las Vegas Wash. Below you will find a photo comparison of the Wash, showing the bank's erosion over time.

In the early part of this century, the area known as the Las Vegas Wash was nothing more than a slow trickle of water leaving the Valley to join the Colorado River. For the most part, the Wash was an almost dry desert wash channel that would only flow during rainstorms. As the Las Vegas Valley grew, the Wash served as a natural channel for the urban flows leaving the Valley. Highly treated effluent, shallow groundwater, urban runoff and intermittent storm flows would all channel through the Wash and out into Las Vegas Bay at Lake Mead.

With increased amounts of water flowing through it, the Wash became excellent wetland habitat as thousands of acres of desert soil were transformed into wet marshy wetland soil. As cattails and reeds took root and grew, the once dry desert land became lush wetlands, as can be seen in this view from the Northshore Bridge in 1972.

As the valley continued to urbanize, the flows of water continued to increase and the same process that created the wetlands began to erode the Wash channel. At first, the Wash channel began to cut a little deeper into the ground and some of the wetland areas began to drain.

As time went on, the channel cut deeper and wider, which allowed more wetland area to dry out and lose its vegetation. Flash flood events, such as those in the summer of 1984, accelerated the erosion. The fast-moving flows scoured the already destabilized banks, removing million of cubic yards of sediment and transporting it downstream to Lake Mead.

Little by little, the soil and rock that made up the Las Vegas Wash channel eroded away, and the Wash became deeply channelized, as can be seen in the photos below, taken in 1978 and 2005, both from the Northshore Bridge.

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Las Vegas Wash as viewed from Northshore Bridge, 1978.

As erosion continued, the wetland area that once covered more than 2,000 acres in the 1970s dwindled to less than 400 acres in the 1990s. In some areas of the Wash, the channel is as much as 40 feet lower and 300 feet wider than it was 15 years ago.

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Las Vegas Wash Downstream of Northshore Bridge, 2005

If we are to stabilize the Las Vegas Wash and protect the ecological system in and around the Wash, our greatest challenge will be to slow down the erosion and headcutting that has occurred over the last 30 years.

To learn more about erosion control efforts along the Las Vegas Wash, explore the links to the upper left of this page.

Las Vegas Wash Project Coordination Team • 100 City Parkway, Suite 700 • Las Vegas, NV 89106 • (702) 822-3300