The Drying of Nevada: Conservation Key to Future
by Joseph Littbarski

With a severe drought condition continuing over much of the west and increasing population growth in the same areas, several western states are introducing water conservation measures.

Nevada has joined the growing list of states now grappling with the twin issues of growth and diminishing resources. Southern Nevada is in the midst of the "ugliest drought" the Colorado River Basin had experienced in 1400 years. The consequences of the drought have been devastating to all communities within the Colorado River Basin.

Nevada: Dropping Water Lines

A bill introduced by Assemblywomen Sheila Leslie (D-Reno) and Peggy Pierce (D-Las Vegas) would require the state engineer to adopt goals for water conservation in all counties in the state, provide a process and funding to clarify the status of existing water rights, and require public hearings on any interbasin water transfers.

The bill also would provide funding to conduct a water resource inventory, and set up an interim committee to continue analyzing water allocation and management.

"The management of our water resources is one of the most critical issues facing our state today, and we all know there are no easy answers where water management is concerned," Leslie said.

Hoover Dam

"What's been missing from this debate at the legislative level is the conservation perspective," Leslie said. "The conservationist community has a very legitimate point of view. It absolutely needs to be part of the discussion."

"I expect the water issue to be major, especially in my rural district," a longtime rancher and six-term state senator Dean Rhoads said. "Las Vegas is running out of water, and Reno is starting to. I can see problems clear up into Elko."

Rhoads represents the Northern Nevada Senatorial District, which covers eight rural counties and a full three-quarters of the state. He also serves with other rural Nevada stakeholders on the water authority's Integrated Water Planning Committee. In his 24-year legislative career, Rhoads said he has seen sessions with more water measures on the table, "but nothing as confrontational as this time around."

New challenges would need to be met in terms of water demands and identifying new water resources. Water quality will be an issue in the years ahead. In the wake of the drought, water conservation has achieved a heightened sense of importance in southern Nevada.

Patricia Mulroy, General Manager, Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) notes: "We live in a desert. Las Vegas is the largest metropolitan area in the driest desert of the United States. I think that's a reality we need to appreciate."

Drought conditions had greatly affected the storage of water. Lake Powell is currently at 51 percent of capacity, and Lake Mead is at 63 percent of capacity. Kay Brothers, Deputy General Manager, Engineering/Operations, SNWA, says that the lake level had declined more than 60 feet in the last 3-4 years.

Source: Water Statistics

Conservation needs to be key to a sustainable future in southern Nevada as well as the rest of the state.

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