By Ed Uehling
Las Vegas Tribune
Candidate for Nevada State Governor and current Mayor of the City of North Las Vegas, John Lee, was interviewed Tuesday on KNPR (Las Vegas public radio). Unfortunately, both he and the interviewer hold very stereo-typically frightening views of Las Vegas’s actual water situation, perpetuated for political and economic reasons, by local water agencies. It is simply not true that more people moving to Las Vegas necessarily means that we would be short of water.
The State of Nevada is allocated 300,000 acre/feet per year from the Colorado River, all of which is grabbed by Clark County. Every drop of return waste water that flows through our sewage systems is treated and put back into the river (Lake Mead). We then withdraw that quantity of fresh water, which does NOT count against the above quota.
About 200,000 acre/feet per year are removed from and replaced into the river under this arrangement. The potential shortage of water only arises as water is used outdoors — i.e., outside of our plumbing systems. Apartments/condos recycle virtually 100 percent of the water they use, unlike the single-family residences which consume (lose forever) 40-60 percent of their water.
Unfortunately, our water and other public agencies aggravate these discrepancies by:
1) Charging apartment and condo dwellers MORE for their indoor water than single family households (unbelievable, but true because of the screwy pipe-size criteria that the local water agencies use to
determine pricing tiers).
2) Discontinuing the incremental rate charges at the 4th tier (about $5 per thousand gallons) rather than continuing the tier system for SFR’s so that those who use inordinate quantities of water are not required to pay much more for the swimming pool and landscape water that they use. The sheik who uses 300,000 gallons of water per month might not mind paying $30 for his last thousand gallons (nearly $5000 total bill) rather than the $1000 he pays today, but many of the other tens of thousands of heavy water users would start thinking about conserving water as their bills quintuple. Also, the millions of additional dollars that the agencies would be collecting could be used to start eliminating the contrived categories they utilize in order to increase our water bills artificially and permanently: Only 15 percent of our bills are for actual water; 85 percent are for miscellaneous charges.
3) Favoring developers of our sprawling ex-burbs so that they continue building water-guzzling SFR’s. The favoritism toward developers is so strong that they get their 100 percent outdoor-used water for third tier rates!
4) Refusing to seriously consider in the past even easy ways of paying for water conservation infrastructure in California (the number one user and waster of water in the Colorado River Basin) such as desalting ocean water, recycling urban water and rationalizing agricultural water use. A portion of the water saved in California could be taken out of Lake Mead for use in Nevada rather than sent downstream. Fortunately, our water authorities are now considering such initiatives.
In conclusion, Las Vegas has plenty of water for now and even for a quintupling of our population — merely if water and home-building policies were to be more rational. Under the current rules we could withdraw 5 million acre-feet of water from the lake if we were just to return 4.7 million to the lake — something that would be possible if most of the population lived in apartment buildings. We could accommodate vastly more people if we were to invest in California water infrastructure to reduce California’s intake of water and that
state were to allow us to extract more from Lake Mead.
As far as the State of Nevada is concerned, it consumes almost 20 times the amount of Clark County’s allocation primarily for growing alfalfa which is fed to livestock — a very low-grade use of scarce water. If the State and its governor were to be truly interested in diversifying and developing the state, they would encourage people and businesses to move to the State’s 13 or 14 rural counties. But that requires excellent internet and phone service plus medical facilities, which Democrats do not want to develop because those counties all vote against them (with good reason). Using 50 percent of water for growing hay makes no sense at all if we want a wealthy and diverse economy and population. Right now, the economy of our 120,000 sq mile state rests 70 percent on what the 500 square miles of Las Vegas Valley produces.
By Ed Uehling