Interior working to exempt Nevada from water cutbacks
LAS VEGAS — Interior Secretary Gale Norton signaled Monday that she would work to ensure a California dispute does not disrupt flow of Colorado River water to southern Nevada.
Norton signed an order cutting California’s share of river water if that state does not agree on a water conservation plan by Dec. 31, but said her staff was “working with Nevada” to avoid cutbacks in the Las Vegas area.
Under current regulations, Nevada would lose enough water to supply 60,000 households if three Southern California agencies don’t reach agreement with a holdout rural water district on a rural-to-urban water transfer plan.
“We understand the equity issues, and are wrestling with the legal issues associated with separating Nevada’s future from the consequences of California’s actions,” Norton said in a speech at the Colorado River Water Users Association meeting at Caesars Palace hotel-casino.
The river supplies water to 25 million people from Denver to San Diego.
Southern Nevada Water Authority chief Pat Mulroy has criticized the Imperial Irrigation District for refusing to sign off on the proposed 75-year conservation plan.
Officials in farming-dependent Imperial County said the agreement was for too long a time and questioned whether they would be held liable for effects on the ecologically sensitive Salton Sea. Negotiations on the plan continued Monday in Las Vegas.
“They’re hard-lining it,” Mulroy said.
But she said the water authority was more concerned about Nevada’s drought — the worst in a decade — than the possibility of a federally mandated cutback.
“Lake Mead is dropping like a rock,” Mulroy said. “We are in a drought and it has nothing to do with politics.”
Next month, Southern Nevada Water Authority will consider a drought plan that will hit its biggest water users — such as hotel-casinos and golf courses — in the pocketbook.
The plan had been in the works for months, but has taken on more urgency since the California plan collapsed.
Rates would be raised for the biggest Las Vegas area water users in a four-tier price structure that already includes incentives to cut residential and commercial use.
If the new rates don’t decrease usage, small users like family households could see their water prices soar, Mulroy said.
“The water has to stop running down the streets,” she said.