LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — About one of every five residential water customers in the Las Vegas valley could come face-to-face with water restrictions in Assembly Bill 220 (AB220).
Andy Belanger of the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) said about 80% of residential customers use less water than the threshold in the bill — 160,000 gallons per year, or half an acre-foot. That’s the line in the sand drawn in AB220, legislation that could take a major step in conservation by giving SNWA the authority to cut off residential water for those 20% that use more than their neighbors during federally declared shortages.
One person in Las Vegas spoke in opposition to limits on residential water use. Every other public comment in opposition objected to another portion of the bill — a move to require many residents who have septic systems to hook up to municipal sewer systems. 8 News Now will have a report on that issue on Tuesday.
Belanger said the average residential customer uses 130,000 gallons of water per year.
To be clear, Belanger and other speakers said hard limits on residential water use isn’t going to happen tomorrow.
“There’s no plan to do that in the short term, but given the conditions on the river, we want to make sure we have the ability to do that before coming back to the Legislature in two years,” Belanger said.
But tomorrow could come a lot sooner than anyone realizes.
Assemblyman Howard Watts, who chairs the Assembly Growth and Infrastructure Committee, said something he hears from people across the Colorado River community: “We didn’t think it would get this bad this quickly.”
Christi Cabrera-Georgeson, deputy director of the Nevada Conservation League, cited a poll indicating 94% of Southern Nevadans think the current water shortage is a problem.
“With the Colorado River and Lake Mead at historic and dangerously low levels, we need a robust and comprehensive water conservation solution. It’s critical that we take action to conserve water whenever possible and we believe this bill does that,” she said.
Las Vegas Chamber President and CEO Mary Beth Sewald said AB220 allows sustainable growth by balancing conservation efforts and water resource needs.
Joseph DiMonte testified in opposition to the bill because it doesn’t address the number of people living in a house — and it ignores apartments and hotels. Households with more than an “average” number of occupants are discriminated against in AB220, he said.
More testimony in support came from conservation voices including Patrick Donnelly of the Center for Biological Diversity.
“With the Colorado River declining, the world is watching what Nevada’s going to do. How the driest state in the country is going to respond to a crisis in our water supply, and this bill takes very important steps toward addressing that crisis,” Donnelly said.
Belanger, Watts and SNWA Deputy General Manager of Resources Colby Pellegrino introduced the bill in a hearing before the Assembly Natural Resources Committee.
Pellegrino said, “If we look back at this current drought of 23 years … 15 of those have been below average, leaving Lake Mead at nearly 28% full. Lake Mead is the source of water for seven out of every 10 Nevadans, making up 90% of that community’s water supply.”
Pellegrino said, “The future is stark.”
She said Lake Mead could drop below 1,000 feet by the summer of 2024. The lake level is expressed as an elevation above sea level.
“We’ve spent a tremendous amount of time and energy and resources stretching our small supply of the Colorado River Water,” Pellegrino said. “But we need to do more because the stark reality of our current situation is what we are marking as the driest 23 years of the last 100 may very well the wettest 23 years of the next 100 years we experience. We don’t know what the future holds, but we know one thing for certain, and that is that we will need to continue to use less water along with everyone else on the Colorado River.”