By the numbers

The state demographer almost needs a crystal ball to crunch numbers for the Silver State

The future is upon us

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CountyPopulation increaseResidents in 2026
Carson City22,030 (39%)79,134
Churchill8,530 (32%)35,115
Clark1.548,010 (86%)3,344,390
Douglas15,956 (32%)66,064
Elko-5,929 (-12%)41,657
Esmeralda-277 (-22%)999
Eureka-43 (-3%)1,442
Humboldt-2,096 (-12%)15,197
Lander-837 (-15%)4,672
Lincoln2,009 (52%)5,895
Lyon41,056 (84%)89,916
Mineral-250 (-5%)4,379
Nye32,823 (79%)74,125
Pershing25 (0.03%)6,761
Storey1,923 (48%)5,935
Washoe189,404 (48%)586,248
White Pine-683 (7%)8,592
State Total1,851,652 (74%)4,370,521

Nevada’s staggering growth shows no signs of stopping in the foreseeable future. According to projections by state demographer, Jeff Hardcastle, the Silver State’s population in 2026 will be more than 4.3 million. That’s a 74 percent increase from 2005.

Of course, the lion’s share of that growth will be in Southern Nevada. The population boom in Clark County—which already has more than 2 million residents—is predicted to climb 86 percent, to more than 3.3 million.

In the north, Washoe County—also no stranger to growth—is expected to have a population of nearly 600,000 in 2026, a 48 percent jump.

“The change in Nevada’s population is driven primarily by changes in the employment sector,” Hardcastle says. For example, the creation of a new hotel-casino or the opening of a new, gold-rich mine can boost a community’s job base significantly. But, he says, it’s often difficult to predict where the growth in future jobs will be, since future development plans are closely guarded corporate secrets.

“Let’s say rural Nevada becomes the geothermal and/or solar capital of the world,” Hardcastle speculates as he gazes into an admittedly murky crystal ball. “There’s speculation about oil reserves in Nevada. If suddenly we become the Saudi Arabia of the Western U.S., things could change overnight.”

Bearing in mind those caveats, here are Hardcastle’s county-by-county projections for the roughly 20-year period between 2005 and 2026. A minus sign (-) indicates a projected decrease in population

Hardcastle says “there’s a whole multitude of people” who rely on his projections. They’re used in the state budgeting process to help determine how many people may be claiming unemployment and welfare benefits in the future. His numbers are also helpful for planning everything from new roads to new prisons.

Of course, Nevada’s future growth will inextricably be linked to the availability of water.

Further conservation will help. “All of a sudden you have more water,” says Lyon County Commissioner LeRoy Goodman, who explains that reducing the per-household consumption means the same amount of water can be “shared” by more people.

Conservation alone won’t be enough to meet the needs of fast-growing counties such as Clark, Lyon and Washoe. New sources of water will also have to be tapped.

Plans are already underway to pump water from aquifers in rural White Pine County to metropolitan Las Vegas. More transfers of water are possible. So, too, is the further development of desalination, so that water from the Pacific Ocean can help meet the growing demand in both Nevada and California.