The predominantly arid ecology of Nevada has created one of the greatest challenges facing the people of our region. Since the nineteenth century when the U.S. government first sent scientific expeditions to explore, map, and record the West, a voluminous record has been made of this landscape and the potential to both exploit and protect it.

From the natural springs that attracted the earliest inhabitants to the wells that supported early town development to the massive federal reclamation projects that dammed the Colorado River to irrigate the California and Arizona deserts, water has ruled urban development. But the desert has supported destruction as well; in 1950 President Harry S. Truman approved the establishment of a continental nuclear proving ground 65 miles north of Las Vegas.

Featured Online Holdings

Example color photograph from the Nevada Test Site Oral History Project showing an aerial view of a mushroom cloud.
For oral history transcripts and videos about the Nevada Test Site, see the Nevada Test Site Oral History Project.
Example color photograph from the Jamey Stillings Photo Collection showing an aerial view of the Hoover Dam and the Mike O'Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge.
Modern photographs of Hoover Dam and the Mike O'Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge can be found in the Jamey Stillings Photo Collection
An example photograph from the Historic Landscape of Nevada digital collection showing the Colorado River above Black Canyon before 1930.
Images and documents from our collections on the Nevada landscape and environment (including Hoover Dam) can be found in the digital collection The Historic Landscape of Nevada.


With the unparalleled growth of the Las Vegas metropolitan area, the development of an urban and regional water system to support it has dominated natural resource planning and exploitation.

The basic issues of water use—its quantity, quality, and allocation—still dominate policy and politics in Nevada and the Southwest as Las Vegas seeks to tap surface and ground water sources in outlying counties and adjoining states, and the original co-signers of the Colorado River Compact wrangle over the allocations from Lakes Mead and Powell, as the levels of those lakes drop precipitously.

See manuscript holdings on water

Urban Impact

We also hold hundreds of city, county, and state publications on historic preservation, urban planning, water and air quality, transportation, and other topics relating to the environment and quality of life. The majority of these are cataloged and are listed in the online catalog. 

Urban development, often at the sacrifice of the natural environment, has sparked a growing concern, awareness, and activism on the part of environmental groups in Southern Nevada, who have sought to educate the public and protect the natural environment from the man-made encroachments and threats of highways, power lines, housing developments, nuclear testing, and the transportation and storage of nuclear waste. 

See manuscript holdings about the environment

Nuclear Testing

The massive Yucca Mountain Project has generated perhaps the largest volume of scientific and government environmental impact studies of Southern Nevada. Both publications and manuscripts on nuclear testing and its effects on Southern Nevada can be found in Special Collections.

Dina Titus' Bombs in the Backyard  (University of Nevada Press, 2001)  is a standard work on nuclear testing, but there are many others as well.