Sisolak calls on feds to step up river basin management, but ‘no need’ to slow growth

By: - August 24, 2022 5:42 pm

Southern Nevada Water Authority General Manager John Entsminger, Rep. Susie Lee and Gov. Steve Sisolak at SNWA’s low lake level pumping station at Lake Mead Wednesday, (Photo: Jeniffer Solis)

Nevada Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak called on states along the Colorado River and the federal government to do more to conserve water in response to a worsening drought in the West.

On Wednesday, during a tour of Southern Nevada Water Authority’s low lake level pumping station at Lake Mead, Sisolak echoed statements made earlier this week by Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, who demanded immediate federal action on the Colorado River water crisis as Nevada faces its second year of mandatory water cuts. 

“Our State has been preparing for this moment for decades – we’ve been a leader in water conservation and innovative technology,” Sisolak said.

Sisolak was joined on the tour by SNWA General Manager John Entsminger and Nevada Democratic Rep. Susie Lee.

Last week, federal officials announced that Nevada would lose about 8% of its water allocation, or 25,000 acre-feet of water, starting January 2023 after states within the Colorado River Basin failed to draft a plan to cut water usage by 2 to 4 million acre feet in order to protect the Lake Mead and Lake Powell reservoirs. 

“We desperately need the rest of the states that rely on the Colorado River water to do the same thing that we’re doing and we need the federal government to act with the same urgency that Nevada has already acted with,” Sisolak said, during a Wednesday reservoir-side press conference. “They’ve got to make it a priority and they’ve got to make an investment in it as Las Vegas and Clark County have done for the past several decades.”

Ongoing drought conditions in the Colorado River Basin have caused Lake Mead water levels to fall by more than 150 feet since 2000. During those decades, the Southern Nevada Water Authority has taken significant measures to conserve and recycle water, said Sisolak.

In Southern Nevada, conservation has reduced water use by 26% since the drought began, despite a population increase of more than 750,000 people during that same time period.

The governor also announced he is creating a three-person panel of water advisors, consisting of senior climate advisor Kristen Averyt, SNMA general manager John Entsminger, and former SNWA general manager Pat Mulroy.

“I’m sure with the expertise of these advisors we can continue on the forefront of cutting edge technology and innovation. They can advise us on where we can best invest our dollars in order to get the best return,” Sisolak said.

Sisolak said he’s preparing a  water conservation and infrastructure package using American Rescue Plan Act funding to support local government’s work to protect Nevada’s water.  

Sisolak praised the SNWA “vision” to build the Lake Mead low level pumping station that will allow Southern Nevada to access water even if the lake’s water level falls too low for water to be released to downstream water users in Arizona, California, and Mexico.

“We’ve protected the water that we need to continue the growth in Clark County,” Sisolak said, adding that he voted to fund the pump during his time as a Clark County commissioner.

Water users in the state will not be affected by water cuts for now, but water officials warn that Southern Nevada’s economic future will depend on further conservation efforts.

Southern Nevada water users consume 110 gallons per person per day. Projected growth for the region is estimated to remain sustainable only if water use is cut to 86 gallons per person per day by 2035, Entsminger said earlier this week.

State lawmakers passed a bill last year requiring the removal of nonfunctional turf by 2027 that will save billions of gallons in irrigation water each year, said Sisolk, using the bill as an example of steps the state has taken to conserve more water in order to support growth.

“Are we going to get to the point where there’s going to be no landscaping outside, no grass? That’s very possible,” Sisolak said. “But right now we have no need to slow down the growth of the valley because of the water situation. All of the water used indoors is managed and recycled.” 

Sisolak said the state was not looking to attract water intensive industries due to shrinking water supplies, but added that lithium mining — a water intensive extractive business — was excluded from those considerations because “we don’t have quite as bad a situation in Northern Nevada.”

Sisolak also touted a $3.1 million dollar investment of federal funds to make the Nevada Department of Wildlife’s Lake Mead Fish Hatchery operational by 2024. The hatchery is essential to conserving the ecosystem and protecting native fish in Nevada’s waters, said Sisolak. The year before stopping operations, the hatchery produced about 13,000 razorback suckers and 6,500 bonytail chub, both of which are listed as endangered.

Sheriff Joe Lombardo, the Republican nominee for governor, however criticized Sisolak for his handling of the water crisis.

In a statement after the press event, Lombardo said Sisolak “has no plan and no vision for our state.”

“Since he took office, Sisolak has known that water is one of the most critical issues facing our state and he had four years to come up with a plan, but he’s done nothing. Sisolak now throwing tax dollars and a panel of advisors at the problem doesn’t fix anything and doesn’t constitute leadership,” Lombard said.

Lombardo said if elected governor his first priority would be “to make sure California is obligated to reduce their share. California is the biggest abuser and suffers no consequences.”

California did not face water cuts last week due to a prior agreement with Arizona, which requires Arizona to absorb their water cuts. Nevada is not a part of that agreement and is not required to absorb other states’ cuts.

The Colorado River Pactwhich lays out how water will be doled out if a shortage occurs is set to be renegotiated. However, those negotiations won’t take place until 2026.

Lombardo added that Nevada “can’t wait until 2026 to address the Colorado River Pact. It’s time to marshal regional leaders and demand real changes right now.”

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Jeniffer Solis
Jeniffer Solis

Reporter | Jeniffer was born and raised in Las Vegas, Nevada where she attended the University of Nevada, Las Vegas before graduating in 2017 with a B.A in Journalism and Media Studies. While at UNLV she was a senior staff writer for the student newspaper, the UNLV Scarlet and Gray Free Press, and a news reporter for KUNV 91.5 FM, covering everything from the Route 91 shooting to UNLV housing. She has also contributed to the UNLV News Center and worked as a production engineer for several KUNV broadcasts before joining the Nevada Current. She’s an Aries.