News Column

Betting on Vegas-style water future

June 11, 2014

By Chris Woodka, The Pueblo Chieftain, Colo.

June 11--COLORADO SPRINGS -- Is Nevada's past the future for other Western states?

The Western Governors' Association pondered that fate at its conference Tuesday at The Broadmoor.

Since 2002, in the midst of the worst drought in modern times in the Colorado River basin, Las Vegas has reduced its water use by 33 percent while increasing its population by 25 percent.

The drop in usage has been caused by active conservation, the economy and a program that pays property owners to rip up sod in Nevada's largest city.

But Las Vegas has not rested, spending $817 million to drill a supply tunnel into the deepest part of Lake Mead and banking a five-year supply of water in underground storage.

"It's as scary looking back as it is looking ahead," said John Entsminger, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, describing the 15-year drought in the Colorado River basin. "Other states will have to look at similar projects."

Entsminger said it will be important for other states to do more with less water as Nevada has done. The seven states that depend on the Colorado River represent a trilliondollar economy that, if those states alone were a nation, would be the fifth largest in the world.

States must find a way to serve growing populations while providing water for agriculture and

industry, he said.

"One of the things we need to get away from is the false divide of water for sectors of the economy," Entsminger said.

The other states represented at the convention are at different points on the same path, sharing the common themes of conservation, more storage and finding new ways to capture more water.

While storage in Lake Mead has increased by 1 million acre-feet in the past 10 years, the chance is increasing for new shortfalls in the next three years, said Assistant Secretary of the Interior Mike Connor.

"It's not going to get us out of this drought situation any time soon," Connor said.

Colorado, blessed with abundant snowpack, feels pressure from neighboring states, said James Eklund, executive director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

"Our snowpack is our greatest reservoir," said Eklund, who has been charged by Gov. John Hickenlooper to come up with a state water plan through an ongoing grass-roots effort. "But we only consume one-third of our water, while two-thirds heads to 18 other states."

Colorado's water plan is drifting toward the more-with-less position, with heavy emphasis on conservation.

"We have to find how to meet demand with a less reliable water supply," Eklund said.


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Source: Pueblo Chieftain (CO)

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