The Southern Nevada Water Authority board approved a seven-state Colorado River drought plan Thursday morning, making Nevada the first state to sign off on the proposal to prevent drastic shortages across the Southwest as the river is strained by drought and overuse.
The vote was 6-0. Gov.-elect Steve Sisolak, Clark County Commission chairman and a board member, was absent because he had to leave for another meeting.
The board’s vote allows the water authority’s general manager, John Entsminger, to execute the Drought Contingency Plan, a result of years of negotiations between the seven states with rights to use Colorado River water. The plan’s goal is to stabilize Lake Mead, the dwindling reservoir outside of Las Vegas that stores water in Arizona, California and Nevada. Under the proposal, the states would temporarily cut their water use to leave more water in the reservoir.
For instance, at low lake elevations, Nevada would leave up to 10 percent of its total right to Colorado River water, or about 30,000 acre-feet (the amount of water that can fill one acre of land up to one foot). In past interviews, Entsminger has said that Nevada could sustain those cuts. Because of conservation efforts, Las Vegas, he said, already leaves water in the lake.
“We are absolutely prepared because our community has conserved so much water in the last 18 to 20 years,” Entsminger told The Nevada Independent in August.
With the board’s authority, Entsminger now has the authority to sign the drought plan when it is approved by the other states. Other states, including California and Colorado, are still resolving in-state issues before their state negotiators can sign on the plan. But all eyes are on Arizona, where there remains an ongoing debate over how the cuts should be implemented.
Water users in Arizona would be required to take significant reductions to their Colorado River supply under the plan. For months, Arizona has worked internally to negotiate its own drought plan. Those talks have hit a roadblock with the cancellation of several public meetings and the inability to agree on a mitigation plan for farmers who would lose water under the plan.
Three hundred miles from Las Vegas in Phoenix on Thursday, another water board introduced yet another proposal for drought planning in Arizona. The board of the Central Arizona Project, which controls a canal that delivers Colorado River water from Lake Havasu to Tucson offered an interim plan that would change how much water was taken out . On Thursday in Denver, the Colorado Water Conservation Board was also meeting to address issues over how the state of Colorado’s plan would affect farmers and ranchers.