LAS VEGAS, Nev. — This week, the Nevada Conservation League hosted a community discussion with State Senator Fabian Doñate (SD-10), Senior Climate Advisor Dr. Kristen Averyt, and Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) General Manager John Entsminger on the impacts of a severe drought — exacerbated by climate change — that has left Lake Mead at dangerously historic lows. Speakers highlighted Nevada’s water conservation leadership, explained strategies to respond to diminishing water supply, and shared how we can meet the demand for water and plan for sustainable growth.
According to SNWA’s General Manager John Entsminger, drought conditions have significantly depleted the water storage of Lake Mead. “We went into the century with Lake Mead essentially full and now the total system’s content is between both Lake Mead and Lake Powell at about 25 percent of capacity,” said Entsminger. Adding to the urgency, State Senator Fabian Doñate adds, “the ring around Lake Mead is all I’ve ever known.”
Limited water resources mean the supply and demand for the resource will shift. As Southern Nevada’s population increases, the need will rise, leaving leaders and government agencies wondering how to continue meeting the state’s needs.
“We are planners in our DNA…which is why we are continuing to be aggressive. We’ve added those 750,000 people since 2002, and we’ve been using 26 percent less water than two decades ago. We are a living, breathing example of the fact that you can continue to have a healthy economy, can continue to have economic diversification…,” said Entsminger.
Lake Mead is at significant risk of falling below 900 feet, an elevation that would mean the Hoover Dam would be unable to release water downstream to Arizona, California, or Mexico. Lower water levels would also lessen the Dam’s ability to generate hydroelectric power.
“The Colorado River Commission is working with stakeholders to try and identify where we can find resources to make sure that we can provide folks with rebates or opportunities for additional resources should that hydropower be compromised—particularly in Lincoln County,” said Senior Climate Advisor Dr. Kristen Averyt. “And similarly, the President just signed the Inflation Reduction Act, and we believe there are resources in there … to try and deploy options that will help folks to adapt to the changes in climate, because these changes in energy are related to water — this is a climate impact.”
While water predictions paint a bleak picture for the future, leaders spoke of the state’s water readiness. “Southern Nevada is the most water-secure in the desert because of our geographical location. We have the upstream of the Hoover Dam and we have reliable facilities to ensure delivery of water under any hydrological circumstance. Collectively, we control our own future. We are going to be okay,” said Entsminger.
Aggressive and comprehensive water conservation strategies have helped extend the availability of water resources, including indoor water recycling programs, mandatory watering schedules, and rebate programs for upgrades to water-smart landscaping. SNWA touted the state’s water infrastructure, pointing to the low lake level pumping station that allows Southern Nevada to access water supplies below Lake Mead’s “dead pool” elevation of 895 feet.
Last year, Nevada passed AB 356, legislation prohibiting water from the Colorado River to be used to irrigate “nonfunctional & nonresidential turf” in public spaces. It was estimated that stopping the growth of ornamental grass would reduce annual water consumption by about 15 percent.
Senator Doñate says the bill, “begins to make waves in what we call ‘nonfunctioning turf’ – the grass you see on medians and sidewalks that no one really uses. We have to start removing that because it wastes enormous amounts of water. By doing that, we would save 15 percent of what we are currently using, and that’s incredibly a large amount.”
The draining reservoirs alarmed the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation which demanded the seven basin states who depend on the Colorado River — Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico, California, Nevada, and Arizona — work collaboratively to devise a plan by August 15 to use at least 15 percent less water from the river to prevent further decline. While negotiations stalled, the U.S. Department of Interior Bureau of Reclamation announced on August 16 a Tier 2 water shortage on the Colorado River and new emergency water cuts for Nevada, Arizona, and Mexico. Nevada is expected to reduce its usage by 8 percent. Fortunately, Nevada is prepared to make the sacrifices necessary to reduce water usage and will continue to be a role model and inspire other basin states to implement aggressive water conservation measures.
“Tell the story of water here in Southern Nevada and our success stories around conservation, and help people understand where their water comes from, particularly if they’re part of the Colorado River Basin. I say everybody in this room, but it’s everybody in all those states,” said Dr. Averyt.
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 include significant investments to advance water management and conservation for Western states. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law invested $8 billion to help western communities prepare for droughts and the Inflation Reduction Act included $4 billion in funding for the Bureau of Reclamation to combat Western drought, including the Colorado River Basin and Lake Mead in particular.