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On the Water Front: Nevada Legislature Dives Into Water Policy With Multiple Bills

As of today, the Nevada Legislature has released nearly 500 bills to be considered during the 80th Session this spring. Several of these bills tackle water policy, a few of them pertain to the ongoing debate over Southern Nevada Water Authority’s (SNWA’s) proposed pipeline to Eastern Nevada, and one might actually improve upon the conversation programs SNWA has already been implementing in Las Vegas for the past quarter-century.

So where are these bills? Let’s dive in to see what they have to offer.

AB 30: “The Pipeline Bill”

As we discussed with Great Basin Water Network’s Kyle Roerink earlier this month, AB 30 is the Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ (DCNR) pre-filed bill that will allow the Nevada State Engineer to create and/or approve a mitigation plan as part of the permitting process for a water appropriation proposal if it passes. If AB 30 becomes law, it may play a key role in easing the path forward for SNWA’s long-desired pipeline, a project that’s been held back by multiple lawsuits and continued opposition from Eastern Nevada locals who are concerned about their limited water supply.

It remains to be seen what becomes of AB 30. Governor Steve Sisolak (D) has publicly declared opposition to SNWA’s pipeline plan, but it still has bipartisan support from key powerbrokers in Southern Nevada.

AB 51 and AB 62: Water management, potentially involving the pipeline as well

AB 51 is another bill that DCNR pre-filed last November. At first glance it seems pretty benign, as it “requires the State Engineer to adopt regulations related to the conjunctive management of groundwater and surface water”. And since the entire western region is facing major trouble due to water law and water allocation agreements failing to match the actual amount of water available, the advancement of conjunctive management here in Nevada may help in aligning state water policies with real-world hydrology. However some environmentalists have expressed concern over the bill, as there are no provisions to address the quality and the quantity of the senior rights holders’ water that may be affected.

AB 62 is the third bill DCNR pre-filed last November. If it becomes law, it will set a maximum 15-year extension for municipal water diversion projects and a maximum 10-year extension for agricultural water projects.

AB 163: The marquee water conservation bill of 2019

Last week, freshman Assembly Member Howard Watts’ (D-Las Vegas) long-awaited water conservation bill finally dropped. If it passes and becomes law, AB 163 will update state law to require water suppliers to perform audits to determine the amount of water loss is occuring in their respective systems. It will also update state law to require new construction, expansion, or renovation projects for residential, commercial, industrial, and public sector buildings use EPA WaterSense certified toilets, faucets, and other plumbing fixtures.

During our conversation with Great Basin Water Network’s Kyle Roerink, he gave (what’s now) AB 163 a pretty ringing endorsement. Yet since SNWA has also signaled a willingness to support some version of this bill, there’s a real chance some version of this bill makes it to Sisolak’s desk this spring… Depending on how SNWA and/or other major water policy stakeholders seek to amend the bill.

Other bills (and a BDR) worth watching

The Legislative Committee on Public Lands proposed AB 95 to allow 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. The Senate Natural Resources Committee has offered SB 140 to require 10% of remaining water that’s available in basins be reserved and only used when an emergency is declared (such as extreme drought). And just last week, Senator Pete Goicoechea (R-Eureka) and four other Republicans who represent rural communities dropped SB 150 to require municipal government develop water resource plans that must be updated at least once a decade.

And these aren’t all: We’re still awaiting additional water bills that are currently in BDR (or bill draft request) status. Keep an eye on freshman Assembly Member Sarah Peters’ (D-Reno) BDR, as it may include a provision encouraging desalination projects as an alternative to the SNWA pipeline plan should it become a bill.

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