LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Figures from the federal government show Nevada used 8% less water from the Colorado River in 2022 as conservation ramped up during one of the drought’s worst years.
Southern Nevada continues to make “tremendous progress” in water savings, according to John Entsminger, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority.
Actual water use dropped from 242,168 acre-feet in 2021 down to 222,797 acre-feet in 2022, according to U.S. Bureau of Reclamation data. The totals are for “water year” periods that begin on Oct. 1 and end on Sept. 30.
Entsminger pointed to efforts to remove “nonfunctional” turf grass at homes and businesses, as well as new restrictions on swimming pools. He points out that cuts to “water budgets” for golf courses haven’t even kicked in yet.
Nevada’s water consumption for 2023 is forecast by the Bureau of Reclamation at 227,525 acre-feet.
Three weeks have passed since the federal government’s Jan. 31 deadline for a plan to conserve hundreds of billions of gallons of water.
Meetings are continuing, according to Entsminger. One face-to-face meeting and other conversations have brought together water officials who are still working to reach agreement on how — and where — to save at least 2 million acre-feet of water.
Entsminger told 8 News Now on Tuesday that separate plans presented by California and the other six states in the Colorado River Basin — Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming — are “not that far off” in reaching the reductions. He said meetings primarily involve Nevada, Arizona and California.
“We’re still at the table,” Entsminger said.
The federal government isn’t likely to act unilaterally just because the seven states didn’t agree on a single plan, Entsminger said. “Not having unanimity in one step of a very long process” doesn’t mean states have failed to do what the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation asked for in June of last year.
Offered the chance, Entsminger declined to criticize other states. He said the people involved in reaching solutions had worked together for many years.
As the drought deepened, the bureau asked the states to submit plans that would conserve 2 million to 4 million acre-feet of water. An acre-foot is enough water to supply two to three U.S. households for a year — 325,851 gallons. On the low end, 2 million acre-feet is 651.7 billion gallons. At the time, Entsminger and other water managers called the request “unreasonable expectations.”
Entsminger said the six-state plan looks to conserve water before Lake Mead reaches lower elevations. “We think the cuts need to be a little higher up in the reservoirs,” he said.
But both plans put a heavy responsibility for water cuts on Arizona and California, the two biggest users of Colorado River Water.
California’s plan stands firm on California’s “senior rights” to water as specified in the Colorado River Compact, a century-old contract known as “The Law of the River.” But the state also offers 400,000 acre-feet of water savings out of its allocations for agriculture.
The six-state plan penalizes California, Arizona and Nevada for evaporation and seepage loss — 1.5 million acre-feet that is currently ignored in distributions of river water. Entsminger said there is support — and opposition — to the decision to include evaporation in the plan.
“A lot of people endorse that approach, and some that don’t like that approach,” he said. He described SNWA as “agnostic” on the subject, although SNWA and the Colorado River Commission of Nevada were the first to include evaporation losses in a public plan for all states.
Read more about the six-state plan and the California plan:
What’s ahead? Unless the federal government follows through on threats to act unilaterally in the next few months, it will be July before the federal government announces its plans, Entsminger said.
And so state water officials continue to talk and the federal government analyzes proposals as they put together a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) that will take a long time to complete.
Conservationists say the effort is happening too late, and the plans are misdirected — filling reservoirs instead of cutting water consumption.
“The (six-state) proposal’s priority right now is propping up Lake Powell and covering up an open secret: Glen Canyon Dam is a liability to our water supply, our prized ecosystems, and the future of the Colorado River,” according to Kyle Roerink, executive director of the Great Basin Water Network.
“Two decades of climate change denial and a failure to be transparent about the archaic plumbing problems inside Glen Canyon Dam are dooming the water supply for 25 million Americans downstream of this antique,” said Zach Frankel, executive director of the Utah Rivers Council.