Compromise on wells, septic tanks narrows effect of AB220, bill goes to Assembly floor

Compromise on wells, septic tanks narrows effect of AB220, bill goes to Assembly floor

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SNWA leader would get power to throttle residential water use

LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — A bill giving the general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) sweeping powers to restrict residential water use was approved by a committee vote on Monday, sending the legislation to the Assembly floor.

Several important changes to parts of the bill related to septic systems helped to bring wider support for Assembly Bill 220 (AB220), but three Republicans voted against it.

While the legislation gives SNWA’s leader — John Entsminger is currently general manager — the power to throttle down water use by Clark County’s biggest residential customers, almost all the opposition to the bill came from property owners who were being ordered to stop using septic tanks and get connected to the sewer system. Now, an amendment has greatly reduced the number of people who will be affected by the requirement.

Previously, about 15,000 property owners would have had to connect. Under an amendment crafted by Democrats Sabra Newby (Assembly District 10) and Tracy Brown-May (Assembly District 42), only about 5,000 property owners will be required to make the switch. The revision to the bill eliminates property owners who have their own well. Only property owners who get city water will be required to connect to the sewer system.

Democratic Assemblywoman details the amendment to AB220 in an Assembly Natural Resources Committee work session in Carson City on Monday.

On March 14, homeowners showed up in force to oppose connections that would cost them thousands of dollars, saying they were already doing more than most people to save water. That’s what’s driving SNWA’s push to get property owners connected to the sewer system. All the water that comes through the sewer system — from toilets, showers and sinks — is treated and flows into Lake Mead. Nevada gets credit for that recycled water, greatly reducing the amount of Colorado River water actually used by Nevada.

A “megadrought” that began 23 years ago has put tremendous pressure on the Colorado River, which supplies water for 40 million people across parts of seven states. The amount of water used in Nevada has dropped so much with conservation measures that officials say there’s room for the population to grow. The water that is treated and flows back into Lake Mead is a critical part of that conservation.

While everyone says they understand the severity of the drought and the limited amount of water available, it’s money that talks.

And people told their state representatives they simply can’t afford to pay to connect to the sewer system. The message got through, and in less than a month, changes to the legislation will now pay 85% of the cost. That’s up from 50% when the bill was introduced — but still not to 100%, which is where Newby and Brown-May intend to get by the time the Legislative Session is over.

“Anybody who’s getting their water service from a well will not be impacted under the proposed amendment,” according to Democratic Assemblyman Howard Watts, who chairs the Assembly Committee on Natural Resources.

Democratic Assemblyman Howard Watts, chair of the Natural Resources Committee.

“We continue to work toward 100% funding,” Brown-May said.

The conversions don’t have to be done until Jan. 1, 2054, according to terms of AB220. An above-average year for Colorado River water this year is seen as an exception — climate change will continue to take its toll on the river for years, experts say.

As the bill goes through more changes on a path to becoming law, a new set of opponents could stand in the way.

SNWA’s power to limit property owners to 160,000 gallons per year (half an acre-foot) would currently affect one of every five residential customers in Southern Nevada. It’s unlikely they will be silent as the next steps in the Legislative process come up.

AB220 still needs to pass on the Assembly floor and then in the Senate before it could go to Gov. Joe Lombardo for a signature.

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