We know we’re rich because we don’t have to think about water. Turn on the tap and out flows pure, clean, thirst-quenching H20—everytime. Because that amazing feat is so consistent, it’s also become incredibly mundane. Springs Preserve’s new permanent exhibition, WaterWorks, aims to foster an appreciation for this everyday miracle.
Curator Aaron Micallef wants the public to know how hard agencies work to provide water to the public. Unlike the highly visible roadway system, the water system is often forgotten, since it’s underground and unseen. “People are going to be very surprised about the amount of infrastructure in the Las Vegas Valley to bring them good, high-quality water to their taps when they want it,” he says. “There are thousands of miles of pipes—enough pipes to go from to LA to Boston and back.”
The installation’s official intent is to “engage visitors in the inner-workings of water treatment and delivery in Southern Nevada.” The key word here is “engage.” Each space is interactive, so viewers feel the sense of discovery that makes learning so fun.
The “Water Workshop” is set up like a laboratory, complete with wearable lab coats and safety glasses. This area teaches all about water testing, a topic that might be dull if taught in a lecture hall. But it’s fascinating to peer through the microscope at zooplankton or watch water fleas swim around (they’re like the coalmine canary of water safety).
Turns out that contrary to local belief, Las Vegas’ tap water is really, truly good to drink. I’ve always been one of the brave few who will drink from a faucet without a filter. This exhibit spells out why I had nothing to fear. “Las Vegas is held up by water systems around the world as the best of the best,” Micallef explains. “We should all be very proud of what we have in our own backyard.”
And those water spots on your glasses? Think of them as tiny specks of the Grand Canyon that hitched a ride via the Colorado River. If that’s hard to visualize, a 3-D light-up map in the “water quality” display more than paints the picture.
One really cool and unique thing about this exhibit is that it’s located in the Charleston Heights Pumping Station. So, throughout the self-guided tour, you get these stunning panoramic views of our water system at work. Also, the architecture of the exhibit is designed in a way that complements Springs Preserve’ desert landscaping. The exhibit flows between indoor galleries, outdoor terraces, courtyards and one indoor/outdoor space. Bravo to Lucchesi Galati Architects, a local firm which also worked on the Spring Mountains Visitor Gateway and Discovery Children’s Museum.
We’re all beneficiaries of this aquatic marvel, but that doesn’t let us off the hook. We’re still in a drought-ridden desert, and the exhibit’s themes include conservation and access. While most of WaterWorks feels like a mind-expanding playground, these topics convey the gravity of this resource. There’s a simple but moving tribute to laborer Thomas “Tommy” Albert Turner who died during the construction of Intake No. 3, our Lake Mead water source. And there's the Global Terrace, created in partnership with the One Drop Foundation, which spotlights the plight of people around the world who struggle to access clean water.