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#NVLeg Halftime Report: On the Water Front

I guess time really does fly by when they’re having fun(?). We’re nearing the halfway point of the 80th Session of the Nevada Legislature, so this is as good of a time as ever to check in on what they’re doing. Today, we’re going through several important water bills to see what’s moving, what’s stalled, and who may be left high and dry as a major legislative deadline day fast approaches.

Oh yes, and keep reading to see how Congress fits into the water balance.

Holding the line on the pipeline?
Photo by Matt Affolter, licensed under Creative Commons, and made available by Wikimedia

Last month, the Assembly Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Mining (NRAM) Committee held a hearing on a pair of bills that will likely affect the pipeline project long desired by the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) if they become law this year. So where do AB 30 and AB 51 stand now?

As of this morning, neither bill has been taken up for additional action. What makes (lack of) development this quite interesting and very important is the Legislature’s 120 day calendar. Unless Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson (D-Las Vegas) grants an exemption (which amounts to a deadline extension to May 29), these bills must pass committee by April 12 to remain viable.

When we spoke with Great Basin Water Network’s Kyle Roerink as the session was about to begin, he confidently declared, “We have full faith that the Governor will move the state forward and see that the economic security and the water future of rural Nevada and Las Vegas don’t have to be in conflict.” This far, the lack of movement on the pipelines bills may be a sign that Governor Steve Sisolak (D) is holding the line on the pipeline. However, we still have another two weeks to find out if the Legislature is truly done with these bills just yet.

Other bills worth keeping an eye on
Photo by Andrew Davey

Early in the session, environmental activists were cheered by what was then a BDR (or bill draft request) from Assembly Member Howard Watts (D-Las Vegas) to strengthen water conservation standards for new construction and renovation projects. That BDR is now AB 163, and the bill was heard in Assembly NRAM earlier this week. Keep an eye on the committee schedule in the coming days to see if/when AB 163 gets a work session, which typically means a committee vote.

Another BDR we heard about when the session began was one from Assembly Member Sarah Peters (D-Reno) to order a Desert Research Institute (DRI) study on desalination, other water treatment systems, water recycling, and additional alternatives to massive pipeline projects that may help Las Vegas and Reno secure their water supplies. That BDR is now AB 265, and the bill received its first hearing in Assembly NRAM last night.

AB 95 directs the extraction of up to 0.5 acre-feet of water per year from existing domestic wells if the State Engineer issues an order restricting extraction, and Assembly NRAM voted to amend (to allow state courts to restrict extraction as well) and pass AB 95 last week. SB 140 requires 10% of remaining water that’s available in basins be reserved and only used when an emergency is declared (such as extreme drought); it was moved from Senate Government Affairs to Senate Natural Resources, and it’s yet to be scheduled for a hearing there. Several Republicans introduced SB 150 to require municipal government develop water resource plans, and last week the bill was amended (to remove the requirement for Clark County municipalities that are part of SNWA, which already issues water resource plans) and passed out of committee.

New(ish) bills on the horizon
Photo by Andrew Davey

Since our last report, there have been a couple more water bills introduced. Senators Chris Brooks (D-Las Vegas), Pete Goicoechea (R-Eureka), and Ira Hansen (R-Sparks) introduced SB 236 on February 27 to set a new 300 foot limit for water diversion. Both the Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) and the Nature Conservancy offered amendments during its hearing last week, so we’ll have to be on the lookout for a work session to see if any version of this bill advances.

Meanwhile, group of Republican Senators introduced SB 250 earlier this month to “provide that any right to appropriate water that has been dedicated to a public entity in order to ensure a sufficient supply of water to certain parcels must remain so dedicated and must not be sold, leased or otherwise used for a purpose other than ensuring a sufficient water supply for such parcels until the modification or redevelopment of such parcels.” Or in other words, water that has already been marked for local use must stay in local use. Thus far, no hearing has been scheduled for this bill.

As we check the BDR list, we can see that Governor Sisolak’s finance office has issued three requests: One bill to create a “Water Resources Planning and Drought Resiliency” advisory board, an appropriations bill for water conservation projects, and another appropriations bill for DCNR.

And finally, some action in that other legislative body
Photo by Andrew Davey

Earlier this month, Nevada and the six other Colorado River Basin states finally presented a complete drought contingency plan (DCP) to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. When we asked last week about the DCP coming to Congress for final approval, Rep. Susie Lee (D-Las Vegas) said, “If it’s agreed to by all the [Colorado River states], it’s something I can support,” then added that this DCP “be a first step in us having a regional strategy.”

Yesterday, it was U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto’s (D) turn to ask the tough questions when she invited SNWA General Manager John Entsminger to testify before the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee’s Water and Power Subcommittee. When Cortez Masto asked Entsminger why it’s critical to begin implementing the basin-wide DCP as soon as possible, Entsminger pointed toward recent threats of a potential “bank run” on Lake Mead as proof of such need.

“Right now, in the current law, people are incentivized to actually move water out of the reservoir right as we’re on the brink of a shortage. By tweaking the way we’re allowed to deliver water, we will actually be incentivizing people to leave the water in the lake,” Entsminger told Cortez Masto and her Senate colleagues.

Despite the recent rain, Lake Mead remains at just 41% capacity. And despite lingering opposition from a few regional stakeholders, the seven states’ top water officials presented a united front in support, and that united front thus far is translating into bipartisan support in Congress for the DCP. The DCP will probably have to be enacted this year to avoid the possibility of federally mandated water cuts next year.

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Comments (1)

  1. Michael M. McGreer

    Senator Cortez Masto needs to take a deeper look into The Colorado River problem. By only interviewing Mr. Entsminger from The Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA), which serves the LV Metro Area, she intentionally or unintentionally ignores the drought impact on the rural communities in eastern Clark County who rely on water from the Virgin and Muddy River tributaries and Basins of the Colo River system. Further, she fails to ask Entsminger to explain why the taking of up to 50,000 Acre Feet Yearly of drought stricken Virgin and Muddy River Tributary water from those Rural Communities to keep the levels of Lake Mead up helps those rural communities. This is not the first time Senator Masto has ignored the taking of rural water by the SNWA. Nor, I suspect, will it be the last.

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