Drought Forum aims for proposals by end of Nov.

In the wake of a three-day summit last week, the governor’s Drought Forum met Monday to set its agenda for the rest of the year.

“There’s a lot to do,” said Leo Drozdoff, director of Conservation and Natural Resources and chairman of the forum. “We just have to set our priorities.”

He said the goal is to present a set of recommendations to Gov. Brian Sandoval by the end of November.

“I think there are going to be things that come out of this now that we can work on,” he said. “And things we can work on in 12 months.”

Changes in the law, he said, will have to wait until the 2017 Legislature.

Drozdoff said it’s true a lot of existing water law in Nevada has been modified by court decisions.

“When you go to court, it’s not really a public process,” he said.

He said the forum is designed to be more of a public process.

The eight member forum went over a long list of topics to work on from strictly legal changes dealing with such things as priority water rights and “use it or lose it,” the rule saying owners lose water rights they don’t use, to measuring and monitoring of water in Nevada. Throughout the discussion was the subject of education beginning with elementary school but encompassing everything including homeowners, businessmen and all others who deal with water issues.

Mark Walker, dean of the UNR Cooperative Extension, went a step further: “We need to help judges and lawyers understand water law a little better. That’s another big audience, I think, to try to reach.”

All the forum members referred to the extensive discussions during last week’s Drought Summit about the weaknesses of the current drought monitoring system.

“It’s important for us to flesh out how we declare drought, what actually gets used to declare a drought in this state,” said Justin Huntington of the Desert Research Institute.

He was joined by State Climatologist Doug Boyle who said at present, the USDA declares whether an area is in a drought. He said the state needs a more extensive monitoring system.

Agriculture Director Jim Barbee said the current monitoring system needs to be expanded to include a variety of indicators.

Walker said that should include “a network of people reporting real life conditions in real time.”

Huntington of the Desert Research Institute said there’s a critical need for more and different types of monitoring stations from weather stations to cooperative observers, agriculture stations, soil moisture monitors, streamflow gauges and ground water monitors.

The group plans to look into legal changes that would give water managers more ability to deal with water shortages. State Engineer Jason King said one example is the numerous groundwater basins in Nevada. He said current law doesn’t have a way for his office to fix that problem and even with three years of El Niño, certain basins still have more appropriated water rights than there’s available water.

“We need to have a tool to bring them back,” King said.

Storage is another topic before the forum — including whether that should be in reservoirs, which suffer significant evaporation losses or pumped underground as “recharge.”

“Nevada is always dry,” said King. “But when we have a wet year, we need to capture that water.”

The forum plans to meet numerous times between now and the end of November when Drozdoff said he plans to present a final report with solid recommendations for the state and the governor to consider.


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