Satellite images captured by NASA over a 25-year period show the spread of Las Vegas into the surrounding desert, illustrating an explosion in population that has exacerbated the region’s water availability issues.

NASA’s Landsat 5 satellite, which can’t render individual buildings but detects land use changes, captured true-color, photo-like images on October 22, 1984; May 29, 1989; June 28, 1994; May 9, 1999; June 7, 2004; and January 12, 2009. These images provide a stark look at just how rapidly the city has grown.

Each successive image shows the beige and tan undeveloped land being swallowed by more and more roads, skyscrapers, residential complexes and golf courses.

With each new city resident comes an increased thirst for water in this arid desert land, which relies upon nearby Lake Mead to meet demand. With urbanization outpacing what Lake Mead can provide, the city has been forced to embark on a multi-billion dollar effort to pipe water in from distant sources.

Lighter Footstep reports that Las Vegas officials are aggressively seeking ways to cut water demand, from active metering and water-smart building codes to paying residents to tear out their thirsty lawns. But the city, dependent upon tourist revenue to survive, still allows businesses on the strip to operate water-intensive fountains and other water features.

The pipeline is scheduled to be completed by 2015. Until then, the city will likely continue its struggle with demand outpacing supply and someday, those iconic water fountains may just have to go dry.

As Las Vegas spreads into the desert, water gets even more scarce
NASA photos reveal 25 years of explosive growth, but it comes at a price.