Great Basin Water Forum
“It’s pretty alarming,” says Steve Bradhurst, Central Nevada Water Authority director, of the worst case scenarios of Nevada’s water supply. “We know we are tapping out resources. We can only take so much water before needing to take more.”
But Bradhurst and the attendees of this year’s Great Basin Water Forum aren’t entirely pessimistic. There are real steps toward conservation that people throughout the state, and neighboring states, can take to ward off potential water disasters in the next few decades.
The water forum is held annually and arose from a memorandum established in 2009 between two California counties, two Utah counties, and eight rural Nevada counties. This year’s meeting in Carson City sought balance between population growth and sustainable water supply. According to Bradhurst, the Great Basin region, which covers most of Nevada, eastern Utah, the southern corners of Oregon and Idaho and a few eastern patches of California, is the “driest hydrographic region in the United States.”
Attendees discussed at length alternatives to the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s proposed water pipeline, which would extract and transport water from White Pine County to Clark County. Earlier this year, state engineer Jason King approved a maximum of 83,988 acre feet of water that could be taken from White Pine County, but Clark County would need much more than that to sustain its current water consumption. This, says Bradhurst, is what concerned members of the forum, because water would continue to be taken from around the state and possibly even neighboring states. Removing ground water from rural communities could result in a disruption of the water table, which would eventually take out vegetation, leaving unsettled soil to produce a “Dust Bowl-like scenario,” says Bradhurst.
The proposed pipeline is estimated to cost $10-$15 billion, which Bradhurst hopes would not be a cost for other counties throughout the state. But there are other options, including desalination, which removes salt from ocean water, rendering it consumable by human populations. This would cost around $3 billion and provide a more reliable source of water. Countries like Australia have been active in researching desalination, but the U.S has just a handful of projects spread throughout the country.
However, Bradhurst says that conservation should be the top priority for Nevadans. Currently, residents of Las Vegas Valley use around 250 gallons per capita per day (gpcpd). Previously, the consumption level was 344 gpcpd, so the conservation is “a good start,” says Bradhurst.
Los Angeles, Phoenix and Tucson consume around 165 gpcpd. If southern Nevadans could reach a goal of 199 gpcpd—a goal set by SNWA to be met by 2035—a pipeline would be unnecessary. Residents can start by doing “more xeriscaping,” which replaces water-thirsty lawns with hardier native plants, and “more retrofits in homes,” such as replacing toilets and sinks.
Bradhurst says that he’s heartened by the response from the Clark County Commission, which has so far opposed the pipeline, but hopes that the rest of the state takes conservation more seriously.
“It’s easier to go with reliable water resources we have,” he says. “We have a scarcity of water in this state, and people are starting to see the writing on the wall.”