Report: Water plan is flawed
LAS VEGAS (AP) – Southern Nevada water authorities don’t have enough research to predict the cost or effectiveness of a proposed multibillion dollar water pipeline from rural Nevada to Las Vegas, according to a report released Tuesday by environmental groups.
The report, commissioned by the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, highlights what it calls missing “key facts” and unknowns in the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s plan to pipe 180,000 acre-feet of water a year from rural counties to accommodate growth in the Las Vegas area.
An acre-foot of water equals 326,000 gallons, enough to supply a family of four for a year.
The report says water officials don’t know how many “secondary” pipelines will be constructed or how many groundwater production wells are necessary. The complete cost of power facilities and lines has not been factored in to the estimated $2 billion price tag commonly cited by water authority officials, it said.
Experts do not agree on whether there is enough water in the rural areas to meet southern Nevada’s growing needs, said Christina Roessler, a water policy consultant who wrote report.
“There actually are no clear answers and that is an issue of great concern,” Roessler said.
Water authority spokesman J.C. Davis said cost estimates include all power needs related to the project. When construction contingencies and inflation are added, the project estimate tops $3.6 billion dollars, assuming major construction begins in 2010, he said.
Davis said the precise amount of water available in the Snake River and Spring Valley isn’t determined yet, but will be during the permit process.
“We don’t get to build any pipelines until the state engineer determines how much water can be used,” he said. “That is exactly what the federal environmental process, the permitting process, is designed to do. And we don’t expect that the process will be done until 2009. We’re in the very, very early stages here.”
PLAN also released a study showing the Las Vegas-area has successfully cut down on outdoor water use, but has not seen the same results indoors. Researchers with Boulder, Colo.-based Western Resource Advocates compared conservation efforts in three desert cities: Tucson, Ariz., Albuquerque, N.M., and Las Vegas.
Taryn Hutchins-Cabibi, the lead author, said Nevada water authorities’ conservation program was focused on outdoor use – which accounts for 60 percent of all water use in the Las Vegas area. Officials had not emphasized indoor conservation or created a rate structure that rewards consumers who use less water.
“Water rates in the Las Vegas valley do not effectively represent the true cost of water and do not send a conservation price signal to consumers,” the study said. Tucson has used it’s rates and other financial incentives to encourage more efficient water use, according to the report.
If the Las Vegas area achieved Tucson’s level of per capita consumption, 110 gallons per person per day, the area would save 190,424 acre-feet per year, more than the proposed pipeline would send.
Cooperation from the casino industry would be critical, said Hutchins-Cabibi,a water analyst with Western Resource Advocates.
If sheets in hotel rooms are changed only after the third night it would save 975 acre-feet a year, and if water was served in restaurants only when consumers requested it, it could save 1,400 acre-feet a year, the PLAN report concluded.
But Davis said conservation alone could not remove the need for a water pipeline.
“There is not an additional 190,000 acre-feet of water that can be garnered through conservation in this community,” he said.