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Effluent Included in Nevada Water Management

WICE Freshwater resource management: Better use of available sources.
According to the University of Arizona's Water Resources Research Center, between 60 and 65 percent of the water that goes down a home's drain has the potential to be reused. 
Jason King

On May 4, 2017, Jason King, the Nevada State Water Engineer addressed The Nevada Legislative Assembly Committee on Natural Resources, agriculture, and Mining which was considering an improvement to the management of water in the state.

Lesley Cohen

During the hearing, Assemblywoman Leslie Cohen, (D-AD 29), asked about gray and recycled water. “I want to know how treated water is handled under water law,” she asked.

King responded: “I think what is being proposed in section 1.3, subsection 1, paragraph (e), [of State Assembly Bill 47) the conjunctive management Act] really supports the fact that Nevada should holistically manage and use all of its water resources: groundwater, surface water, and I consider effluent a separate kind of water as well. I think it supports that idea.”

King continued: “The appropriations and regulations of effluent water are found in NRS 533.440. I think it is hand in glove with that. I consider effluent to be a third type of water that we can conjunctively manage.”

 Assemblywoman Cohen: “Do we need to add something to clarify that since it is not included [in the current legislative proposal]?”

King: “That is our office’s view, that effluent is that third type of water and should be conjunctively managed, but if it is unclear to some, I am sure we can add some clarity.”

Heidi Swank

Committee Chair Heidi Swank (D-AD 16) pointed to page 3, line 34, where it states “all waters. You include groundwater, surface water, and effluent as something that your office should conjunctively manage, correct?“ she asked.

King: “Absolutely. Just to be clear, many times people interpret that conjunctive management just considers the hydrologic connectivity between surface water and groundwater. That is as far as some people go. I believe the entire conjunctive management is of all water resources, whether they are hydrologically connected or not. Effluent is that third separate water resource that I think we need to throw into that mix”.

Robin L. Titus

Assemblywoman Robin Titus (R-AD 38) pointed out that: “Along with that same line, our standards are already there for reusing the effluent. It is connected, especially in the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA), which is a classic example of how to capture effluent. Do they clean and clarify the effluent water and re-inject it as part of the system that they use?”

King: “You are thinking of the big picture of conjunctive management as I do. My point earlier was, arguably, you could say that the molecule of water in the effluent is not connected to a groundwater source; but big picture, it is an important component. It turns {The limit of] 300,000 Acre Feet of Colorado River[i] water into 480,000 acre-feet. It is a huge component.”

On June 9, 2017, Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval signed Senate Bill 47 into law.  It declared it a state policy to manage Nevada’s surface and groundwater resources conjunctively, and not as a separate source.

Adding effluent to the quantify of water managed is a major problem for the Mesquite, NV Board of the Virgin Valley Water District (VVWD), and the Mesquite, Nevada City Council.

The VVWB “manages” underground and the delivery of Virgin River water.  River water is used both for irrigation and for profitable leasing by the holders of decades old Virgin River water privileges.

Virgin Valley Water Board from left, Travis Anderson, Nephi Julian and Randy Laub. Photo by Andrew Davey

The conjunctive management of water resources is compounded by a disagreement over who managements water.   According to Nephi Julien, “it is not our right to determine that someone gets water before somebody else.  They [The Council] are the ones who control that.” “The only limits are the number of [building, licensing} permits available,” he contends.

City Councilman Brian Wursten

The Mesquite City Council “manages” effluent and its reuse primarily for golf course irrigation. 

City Councilman George Rapson

When Mesquite City Council Candidate David Ballweg ran for office, he said: “The first thing I want the public to understand is that the city council has no impact or say in district water policy.” Candidates Brian Wursten and George Rapson agreed with Ballweg.  All were elected to the Council.  Ballweg was defeated in the 2018 election  Wursten, and Rapson remains on the council.

More problematic is the quantity of water available for use. The district is pumping nearly twice the perennial limits for underground water taken from the basin for use.  They can pump about four times the amount, and they want to pump 21 times that amount.

The Virgin River is the water boards source of for Irrigation. The Virgin River is government by the Colorado River Compact of 1922.  That compact allocated only 300,000 AFA to Nevada.  The Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA), serving the greater Las Vegas Metropolitan area, reports that exceptions or adjustments to 1922 contract allow the taking of 467,661 AFA of Colorado River Water. In 2017, they took 453,835. By the end of 2018, they project taking 453,898 AFA. They project taking 464,156, in 2019, 475,777 in 2020 and 484,944 in 2021.[ii]

Obviously, adding the amount of effluent consumed to either the underground water guided by the perennial limits or the river controlled by the Compact limits increases the misuse.

It may be that some of the deficits could be reduced by treating effluent and returning it to the river or the basin.

Jason King retires this month.  It will be the new Nevada Water Engineer to put the city and the water board straight in how water is conjunctively managed.


[i] The Colorado River Compact of 1922 limits Nevada to 300,000 Acre Feet of water from that river and its tributaries.

[ii] Southern Nevada water Authority 2018 Water Resource Plan & Water Budget at:


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About Author

Michael McGreer Mesquite, Nevada
Dr. Michael Manford McGreer is managing editor of and writes on issues that impact public policy.

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