Nevada water authority offers $82 million to end water fight

LAS VEGAS -- Southern Nevada water officials have offered to buy $82 million in water from California in an effort to broker a long-delayed Colorado River water-sharing deal.

Four Southern California agencies have been negotiating for more than a year to transfer water between the state's farming and urban interests. Until an agreement is reached, Interior Secretary Gale Norton has suspended the rights of Nevada and California to take any more than their allotted amounts of Colorado River water.

The $82 million offer, which was made last week by the Southern Nevada Water Authority, would allow Nevada to draw an additional 330,000 acre feet of Colorado River water over 20 years -- a share that would come from California's river allotment. Nevada also would have access to an additional 840,000 acre feet of surplus water, depending upon the river's ebb and flow.

"It was a pretty good move to put it out there. It got California thinking, and it forces them to consider all the possibilities," said Kay Brothers, a deputy general manager for the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

Last year, Nevada exceeded its yearly 300,000-acre-foot allotment by 8 percent. California surpassed its annual 4.4 million-acre-foot allowance by 18 percent. An acre-foot of water provides the average annual needs of a family of four.

With its $82 million price tag, the water would cost about $70 per acre-foot. That compares with the 50 cents an acre-foot the federal Bureau of Reclamation charges for Lake Mead water. The Southern Nevada Water Authority also pays as much as $150 an acre foot to store water in Arizona.

"The department viewed Nevada's offer as very helpful and has encouraged the four California water management agencies to give it serious consideration," said Bennett Raley, assistant Interior secretary for water and science issues.

The plan was met with skepticism from some California water officials.

"We don't want to shift water rights that are needed for our well-being," said Ron Hull, chief spokesman for the Imperial Irrigation District, which oversees the Imperial Valley, a farming region east of San Diego.

But Clark County Commissioner Rory Reid, a member of the Water Authority board, expressed hope the proposal could be the key to ending the impasse.

"If Nevada can do something to bring all these parties together and resolve this, it could be a win-win for everybody," Reid said. "We need water. If we can acquire it at market rates and at the same time resolve a regional water war, it seems like that makes some sense."


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