Sandoval: Water resources management is key to Nevada’s future
Last week I had the privilege of addressing the annual conference of the Nevada Water Resources Association. Formed in 1944, NWRA is a non-profit professional association that provides education, training and networking opportunities for those who conserve and protect Nevada’s water resources. These professionals play a critical role in Nevada’s economic recovery and future prosperity.
Nevada is the driest state in the nation, with an average precipitation of nine inches per year. But in addition to always being the driest state in the nation, for the past 12 years we have endured the worst drought on record. Here in Northern Nevada, we continue to experience decreased snowpack and can expect below-normal spring flow. Lake Mead, the primary water source for nearly 2 million Nevadans, still is down 100 feet and is expected to drop another 14 feet by the end of the year.
Nevada has long recognized the importance of protecting its limited water resources. The Office of the State Engineer was established in 1903 to oversee the resource, and now, nearly 110 years later, it continues to perform several essential functions – not the least of which is leadership on the topic of balancing water use and resource protection. The State Engineer remains the linchpin in Nevada’s regulatory framework.
I believe in the independence of the State Engineer’s Office and over the years I have watched the office and its work from many vantage points – as a legislator, attorney general, federal judge and, now, as governor. I continue to believe in the importance of that office – and I believe that the system works as it has long been intended to.
Nevada has always been committed to allocating time and resources to productive research that will benefit every resident of our great state. Through continued research and development, Nevada will play a key role in addressing and solving many of the water supply challenges facing the western United States and other arid parts of the world. I am confident that the Nevada System of Higher Education will continue to help solve water and climate issues through the ground-breaking work at the Desert Research Institute and our research universities.
DRI has developed a program in collaboration with the State Engineer’s Office that will be used to evaluate available water resources in all basins in Nevada. This program will provide the information needed on available water resources for economic development and ecosystem health. DRI is conducting research on how climate change will affect water resources vital to the state of Nevada.
Research at DRI has been vital in helping to preserve Lake Tahoe’s famous clarity and enhance Walker Lake’s fishery while maintaining a strong agricultural community in the Walker basin watershed. This kind of research will help create much-needed jobs throughout the state and allow for opportunities to partner with the state’s universities and with national and international agencies to develop technological advances that will keep Nevada on the forefront of scientific innovation.
Together with ensuring the long-term availability of our supplies of water, it is also vitally important that we protect the quality of our water and the safety of our drinking water. State government plays an important role in controlling potential sources of pollution and regulating public drinking water supplies. Over the past several years, under State oversight, public water systems in many communities have been upgraded to reduce levels of arsenic to meet new standards.
Another important part of our work to ensure the health and safety of Nevadans and visitors to our state is the work that our environmental health programs do when reviewing water supply systems during every food and drink establishment inspection, responding to public complaints about possible water-related issues, permitting water bottling plants, and ensuring safe recreational water, such as public pools.
All in all, several state agencies are working in concert on the critic issue of water resource management and water safety. Economic development and the future quality of life are as closely linked to water resource management and our environment as to any other that confronts us. The challenges we face in protecting the quality and safety of our water can be daunting. But we will continue to meet these challenges by basing our decisions on sound science and by working cooperatively with our industries and municipalities and groups like NWRA.
• Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval can be reached through his website gov.nv.gov.