When I arrived in Las Vegas in 1999, people were giddy with the growth that was taking place in the greater Las Vegas valley. There were naysayers who said we could only grow so much, so fast and so long without giving thought to the natural resources. The most important resource being considered was water.
Southern Nevada is a desert that is dependent on wells and the Colorado River. Even though we have the Hoover Dam in our backyard and the Colorado River water abuts Nevada, the Silver State has never been a huge recipient of the allocated resource.
The Colorado River Compact was initiated in 1922 and included seven U.S. states. Those states are Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, Nevada, Arizona and California. The Upper Colorado River Basin Compact of 1948 established the current specific annual allotments in the Upper Basin. Nevada is part of the Lower Basin allotments that were established in 1928 as part of the Boulder Canyon Project.
In addition, 1,500,000-acre-foot of Colorado River water is allocated to Mexico every year – this is the result of the water treaty of 1944. Nevada is second from the bottom of water allotted to our state. Arizona is the only state receiving less than Nevada.
A Week of Water conference is now underway at UNLV. Participants include representatives of the Jewish National Fund and other water experts from Israel and Nevada.
Growth continues to surge in southern Nevada. Take a drive around the Beltway and witness the myriad numbers of housing developments underway. The question is what can we do to get more water to feed into these new communities.
Farmers and other from central Nevadans balk at diverting water from their farmlands. They say it would be devastating to their industry and cost prohibitive.
There is one solution that must be considered if we are going to adequately serve the growing communities with the water they need. Water consumers in southern Nevada have got to bite the bullet, accept that any solution is going to increase our monthly water bills and get on with making a decision sooner than later. The solution is desalinization.
The Southern Nevada Water Authority should immediately begin a process of seeking talks with California and/or Mexico. The SNWA should work on the prospect of creating
a desalinization plant – or two – off the coast of California or Mexico. A few years ago, California environmentalist extremists would have screamed at the prospect of a desalinization plan being built off the coast of California, especially if it was to help the growth industry of southern Nevada. They would have told Nevada to go pound sand.
But things have changed.
The first desalinization plant is now underway in Carlsbad, California. Another stalled plant in Santa Barbara is on the way to be completed and eventually put into operation.
The SNWA could and should lead the way into helping establish desalinization plants to swap Pacific Ocean water for Colorado River allotments that will meet our growth needs. If California balks at this prospect (which is a possibility), we ought to offer the same deal with Mexico.
No matter how you look at it, there is a cost to growth. More houses in more communities means more tax dollars to pay for those things we deem to be necessary. But the infrastructure to build these new communities, which are already under way, means a cost that we will all have to bear.
The cost of building desalinization plants won’t be cheap. However, the longer we wait to build these inevitable plants, the greater the costs will be for those of us who make southern Nevada our home.
It’s not now or never. It’s now or more expensive down the line. The choice is ours.
This article was written by Alan Stock and is his opinion only.