hedge bet against pending future decreases in the amount of water

…It is as hedge bet against pending future decreases in the amount of water the Colorado River can actually provide…


Decades after it was first proposed, Southern Nevada Water Authority is still pushing for a pipeline to send rural groundwater to the Las Vegas area. But others are questioning whether the project is really needed.

WRITTEN BYDaniel Rothberg

PUBLISHED ONs Oct. 12, 2017


IN 2015, ALBUQUERQUE delivered as much water as it had in 1983, despite its population growing by 70 percent. In 2016, Tucson delivered as much water as it had in 1984, despite a 67 percent increase in customer hook-ups. The trend is the same for Phoenix, Las Vegas and Los Angeles, said longtime water policy researcher Gary Woodard, who rattled off these statistics in a recent phone interview. Southwestern cities boomed during these decades, yet water demand fell far below projections. Efficiency and conservation worked better than water managers could have hoped.

“Everyone assumed that water demand was proportional to population,” said Woodard, a former University of Arizona professor who works for the water resource consultants Montgomery & Associates.

In the 1980s, before increased efficiency and conservation efforts, cities across the West saw an immediate need to secure reliable water resources for future growth. This thinking in part was what drove the Southern Nevada Water Authority, which serves the Las Vegas area, to propose in 1989, a 250-mile pipeline that would pump billions of gallons of rural groundwater to Las Vegas. Farmers, ranchers and local officials near the targeted groundwater basins in rural northern Nevada called it a “water grab.”

The pipeline was never built, and Las Vegas, which gets 90 percent of its drinking water from the Colorado River, never experienced a water shortage. The opposite happened. As population boomed in the early 2000s, Southern Nevada pulled less and less Colorado River water from Lake Mead.

Decades later, Southern Nevada Water Authority is still actively pursuing the pipeline, despite legal challenges from a diverse coalition of ranchers, tribes and environmental groups. In a new round of state engineer hearings last week, opponents are again pushing to limit the scope of the water authority’s groundwater rights.

They believe that the project would undermine the area’s environment. And they often find themselves asking the same question: Las Vegas grew, and its per capita demand decreased without the $15 billion pipeline, first proposed decades ago. So how necessary is it?

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