It’s time to get real: Nevada is a leader in water conservation

If you haven’t lived under a rock, you know Nevada, and the entire Southwest is in the midst of a severe drought. The rain in January helped, but overall that’s just a drop in the bucket. It needs a long-term solution. Unfortunately, many of the states that share water resources with Nevada have their heads in the sand when it comes to water conservation.

As a reminder, Nevada falls under the Colorado River Compact along with six other states (Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming). Signed in 1922, the Pact was an agreement between states that assigned water rights to the Colorado River. Within the compact, Nevada is allocated about 4 percent of the allotment of the lower basin, which includes the waters of Lake Mead. In fact, despite our state’s incredible growth, Nevada is taking significantly less than all other participants throughout the agreement.

We are allocated less than other states, but we also use less than other states. That’s because Nevada takes conservation and drought very seriously and has taken several steps to use water effectively and sparingly. When the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) was formed in 1991, conservation was one of the key elements of the agency’s long-term water resource plan. SNWA has one of the most comprehensive water conservation programs in the US and has served as a model for other communities.

Meanwhile, other states, notably California and Arizona, which both share reserves in the lower basin, haven’t taken protection nearly as seriously. Today we are at critically low levels in both of the river’s reservoirs, Lake Powell and Lake Mead. Lake Powell is only 24 percent full; Lake Mead is only 28 percent full, and actual available water is estimated to be even less. The federal government has now stepped in to counter this crisis. In late November, the Bureau of Reclamation issued a notice indicating that it plans to review options to update the river’s 2007 agreed operating rules to address these serious issues. In mid-December, all seven states submitted formal comments on how they would like to view water resource cuts.

Nevada’s letter, which came from John Entsminger, Deputy Governor for the State of Nevada and General Manager of SNWA, and Eric Witkoski, Executive Director of Nevada’s Colorado River Commission, was the only one of the state-run letters that contained any type of offer contained solution. The letter outlined a way to reach consensus through a comprehensive framework and was referenced in two of the other state’s letters with some notations included. I certainly appreciate the leadership of Entsminger and his colleagues on this matter.

The end of Nevada’s letter summed up our frustration well. It states: “Finally, Nevada strongly desires that this alternative be further refined through collaboration with the other states of the Colorado River Basin and river stakeholders. However, given the lack of progress in building consensus on these issues, we felt it prudent to put in place the concepts and frameworks needed to stabilize reservoir elevation and provide increased water supply reliability in the Desert Southwest. Nevada remains ready to work with each of our partners to refine this alternative for immediate implementation as quickly as possible.”

CALL TO ACTION: All seven of the state’s letters, including the Nevada letter, and the Colorado River Rules Review Notice are available online and I encourage you to peruse them. The sad reality is that Nevada has for too long shouldered the burden for our surrounding states on water conservation issues, and now the entire region is facing the consequences of its own ignorance. It’s time these states got real and confronted these incredibly severe water shortages that have plagued the Southwest for decades. The only way forward is with conservation and water innovation, and unless government stakeholders step in to create a plan, the federal government will do it for us.

By whose authority?

For more information on my comment and some of my backup research, visit www.LyleBrennan.com.

2 Chronicles 7:14 (NKJV) “When my people, who are called by my name, humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and forgive their sins and heal their land.”

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