Nevada vying to recover share of water
LAS VEGAS SUN
Southern Nevada water officials are in Sacramento negotiating with
the six other Colorado River basin states in what could be a critical
effort to win back water cut by the federal government Jan. 1.
Southern Nevada Water Authority General Manager Pat Mulroy and Deputy
General Manager Kay Brothers are working on two fronts. Along with
federal and California state officials, they are pushing four independent
water agencies in the Golden State to resolve long-standing issues
on how much each of the four can take from the Colorado River, a split
that led to the cutoff of so-called "interim surplus" water
If the California agencies cannot reach a compromise, the Nevada
delegation hopes to convince the other states that Nevada should not
be punished for California's intransigence, and the surplus should
be resumed -- at least for Las Vegas.
At stake is 30,000 to 40,000 acre-feet of water per year, about 10
percent more than Nevada's base allocation of 300,000 acre-feet annually.
One acre-foot is equal to about 326,000 gallons, or about enough water
for a typical family for one year. Southern Nevada officials had counted
on the extra water to provide a bridge to the year 2016, when groundwater
and other supplies would become available to slake Las Vegas' thirst.
The U.S. Interior Department cut off both the Nevada and California
surplus under Colorado River rules that dictated an end to the surplus
unless the California agencies agreed on a water-sharing pact, known
as the Quantification Settlement Agreement. Interior officials, however,
said Wednesday in strong terms that they do not believe Nevada should
be punished for California's inability to come to terms.
The Southern Nevada Water Authority presented a proposal to de-couple
Nevada's use of the surplus from California's in June. Nevada needs
the proposal to win support from the other states along the Colorado
River -- Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona and California
-- as well as the federal government.
"If the Quantification Settlement Agreement is not completed
in short order, then we would expect all the states to sit down and
consider Nevada's request on an expedited basis," Assistant Interior
Secretary Bennett Raley said from Sacramento on Wednesday.
That means California as well, Raley said.
"We would be coming back to the California water agencies and
would ask very strongly that they hold Nevada harmless," he said.
"Our hope is that if we do not have agreement by Aug. 15, the
states will immediately turn to reviewing the Nevada proposal."
Raley noted that in relative terms, Nevada's use of surplus water
-- actually unused river apportionments by Wyoming, Colorado and Utah
-- is miniscule. California's surplus consumption has equaled about
800,000 acre-feet in a single year, more than twice Nevada's total
Without a water-sharing pact in place, California faces what is dubbed
the "hard landing" and would be restricted to 4.4 million
acre-feet annually and no more. With the agreement, California, like
Nevada, would have 15 years to wean itself from dependence on the
Raley delivered what he called a final offer to California at the
"We believe a major milestone has been reached," he said.
Interior, which control disbursements of Colorado River water through
the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and Lake Mead, is forwarding a 10-page
Quantification Settlement Agreement, or QSA, "that we believe
is absolutely fair," Raley said.
The seven states on the Colorado River and the four California water
agencies have made positive comments about the proposal, Raley said.
However, the California agencies have appeared close to compromise
before, only to have hopes for a settlement dashed after one or another
agency pulls back. According to the Associated Press, discussions
have thus far been rocky, with disagreements among the agencies over
who should bear the cost of environmental mitigation, especially for
the threatened Salton Sea, a slowly dying inland body of water fed
by river runoff.
Raley said he is hopeful that this round of negotiations will not
be a repeat of earlier failures, but this is a last chance for California
to maintain access to the surplus in future years.
"From a federal perspective, our work is done," he said.
Officials from the two California agencies central to the discussions
in Sacramento said that they are sympathetic to Southern Nevada's
"Nobody can blame Nevada for wanting to de-couple," said
Adan Ortega, vice president of external affairs for the Metropolitan
Water District of Southern California. The agency supplies water to
16 million consumers in California.
"There is no reason for them (Nevadans) to suffer for our inability
to come to terms," Ortega said.
Sue Giller, spokeswoman for the Imperial Irrigation District, said
she also is sympathetic to Nevada's perspective, but the emphasis
of her agency is on successfully negotiating the water-sharing agreement.
"What happens if that doesn't happen -- We're not in the business
of speculating," Giller said. Her agency consumes about two-thirds
of California's allotment from the Colorado River for agricultural
"Our emphasis right now is on achieving a QSA that is a solution
for everybody," she said.
Vince Alberta, spokesman for the Southern Nevada Water Authority,
said both Brothers and Mulroy were not available for interviews from
Sacramento. He said the California settlement and the de-coupling
of Nevada and California's water futures were subjects for conversation
among all the states and agencies.
"A lot of people are sympathetic to the position that Nevada
has been put in through no fault of its own," Alberta said.