Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know Nevada, and the entire Southwest is in the midst of a severe drought. January’s rain has helped, but in the overall scheme of things, it’s just a drop in the bucket. A long term solution is needed. Unfortunately, many of the states who share water resources with Nevada have buried their head in the sand in regard to water conservation.
By way of background, Nevada falls under the Colorado River Compact, along with six other states (Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming). The compact was signed in 1922 and was an agreement between the states that allocates the water rights of the Colorado River. Within the compact, Nevada is allocated about 4 percent within the lower basin’s allotment, which encompasses Lake Mead’s water. In fact, within the entire agreement, Nevada takes significantly less than any of the other participants, despite the incredible growth of our state.
We are allotted less than other states, but we also use less than other states. That’s because Nevada has taken conservation, and the drought, very seriously and has put multiple steps in place to use water effectively and conservatively. In 1991, when the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) was formed, conservation was one of the key elements to the agency’s long-term water resource plan. SNWA has one of the most comprehensive water conservation programs in the nation and has served as a model for other communities.
Meanwhile, other states, California and Arizona in particular, both of whom share reserves in the lower basin, have not taken conservation nearly as seriously. Today we find ourselves at critically low levels in both of the river’s storage reservoirs, Lake Powell and Lake Mead. Lake Powell is only 24 percent full; Lake Mead is only 28 percent full, and the actual available water is estimated to be even less. The Federal government has now stepped in to address this crisis. In late November the Bureau of Reclamation published a notice indicating they plan to review options to update the river’s operating rules, which were agreed upon in 2007, in order to address these severe issues. In mid-December, all seven states submitted formal comments on how they’d like to see cuts to water resources allocated.
Nevada’s letter, which was from John Entsminger, the Governor’s representative for the state of Nevada and general manager for SNWA and Eric Witkoski, executive director of the Colorado River Commission of Nevada was the only one of the state-led letters that offered any sort of solution. The letter outlined a way to achieve consensus through a comprehensive framework and was referenced in two of the other state’s letters with some endorsements included. I, for one, appreciate the leadership from Entsminger and his colleagues on this issue.
The end of Nevada’s letter summed up our frustrations well. It said, “In conclusion, Nevada strongly desires that this alternative be further refined through cooperation with the other Colorado River Basins States and river stakeholders. However, given the lack of progress achieving consensus on these issues previously, we felt it prudent to introduce the concepts and framework that are necessary to stabilize reservoir elevations and provide increased water supply reliability to the desert southwest. Nevada continues to stand ready to work with any of our partners to refine this alternative as quickly as possible for immediate implementation.”
CALL TO ACTION: All seven of the state’s letters, including Nevada’s, and the notice to review the Colorado River’s rules are available online and I encourage you to read through them. The sad reality is, Nevada has been pulling the weight for our surrounding states in water conservation issues for too long and now the entire region is facing the consequences of their own ignorance. It’s time for those states to get real and face this incredibly severe water shortage that has been going on for decades in the Southwest. The only way forward is conservation and water innovation and if state stakeholders don’t step in to create a plan, the Federal government will do it for us.
2 Chronicles 7:14 (NKJV) “If my people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”