Water fight

Activists stopped a developer-friendly water super agency in the legislature, but they need help making the victory stick

Truckee River water has long been a subject of political battles. Those battles become fiercer as the water stays the same while the population rises.

Truckee River water has long been a subject of political battles. Those battles become fiercer as the water stays the same while the population rises.

Photo By David Robert

For additonal information on the new water agency, see greatbasinwater.net.

Critics of the defeated plan to create a Northern Nevada water authority succeeded in getting the legislature to change it to a milder bill creating a Western Regional Water Commission. They now must turn their attention to scrutinizing the new panel’s actions—and they need citizen activists to stay engaged.

The original form of Senate Bill 487 would have created an agency similar to the Southern Nevada Water Authority that is trying to raid rural eastern Nevada counties for water supplies to feed growth in Clark County. The proposed agency could have launched similar water importation plans, as well as regulated rates.

The new version of the bill that was approved by the legislature will give the Water Commission far less authority—no power to import water or regulate rates—but still enough to make slow-growth advocates nervous.

Assemblymember David Bobzien calls the final measure “one of the more important bills that came out of the session for Northern Nevada, and it’s something that we’re going to have to keep an eye on and be actively engaged in going forward. I think it’s something that we definitely have to watch, but I think the spirit of the compromise came out of a shared recognition that we do need a more regional focus, more cooperation when it comes to planning for water.”

Others are less certain. “I don’t think there is any such recognition by the builders,” said one lobbyist. “It just suits their needs. If a smaller agency was better for them, they’d be supporting that.”

The original version of the bill generated significant grassroots opposition, and Bobzien and others say that needs maintenance. One reason Bobzien is optimistic, he said, is that the measure contains safeguards.

“I think what’s unique about the bill, though, is that there is some concern that the technical planning agency … has to report to a board of electeds so that it’s very similar to what we have with regional planning and the regional governing board. But I think the key distinction is that there’s also a legislative oversight body. So there’s going to be a lot of oversight to this organization’s initial forming, its initial activities. And I think out of that, if the public stays engaged, there’ll be a good trajectory going forward for how we deal with water planning in the Truckee Meadows.”

Under the final language of the legislation, the Commission’s members will be two members each of the Reno and Sparks City Councils and the Washoe County Commission, plus one member each representing the Truckee Meadows Water Reclamation Facility, South Truckee Meadows General Improvement District and Sun Valley General Improvement District. Overseeing their activities will be a legislative committee whose members will be appointed by the two legislative environment committees, the Assembly Speaker and the Democratic and Republican floor leaders.

In addition, another panel, the Northern Nevada Water Planning Commission, will also be created. It will be made up of unelected officials and private citizens. This group, the new law says, “shall develop, and as necessary recommend revisions to, a Comprehensive Plan for the planning area covering the supply of municipal and industrial water, quality of water, sanitary sewerage, treatment of sewage, drainage of storm waters and control of floods.”