Los Angeles Times

‘Worst-case’ limits on water for Las Vegas considered


CARSON CITY, Nev. — Nevada lawmakers are considerin­g a remarkable shift in allowing the water agency that manages the Colorado River supply for Las Vegas to limit single-family residentia­l use in the desert city and surroundin­g county.

It’s another potential step in a decades-long effort to ensure that one of the driest metropolit­an areas in the U.S. has enough water. Already, ornamental lawns are banned in Las Vegas, new swimming pools have a size limit and the water used inside homes is recycled.

Although some agencies across the U.S. West tie increased water use to increased cost, Nevada could be the first to give a water agency, in this case the Southern Nevada Water Authority, the power to restrict what comes out of residents’ taps to about 30,000 gallons above the average use. It’s aimed mostly at the top 10% of water users, who use 40% of the water in the residentia­l sector, spokespers­on Bronson Mack said.

“It’s a worst-case scenario plan,” the bill’s sponsor, Democratic Assemblyma­n Howard Watts of Las Vegas, said of the residentia­l limit. “It makes sure that we prioritize the must-haves for a home: your drinking water, your basic health and safety needs.”

The sweeping omnibus bill is one of the most significan­t to go before lawmakers this year in Nevada, one of seven states that rely on the Colorado River. Deepening drought, climate change and demand have sunk key Colorado River reservoirs that depend on melting snow to their lowest levels on record.

Lawmakers heard testimony on the bill Monday evening, which also includes connecting many homes that use unrecyclab­le septic tanks for wastewater to the county’s recyclable sewage system instead in the coming decades. It also establishe­s a program to pay at least 50% of the transition cost as they look to secure more state and federal funds to help.

Water agency officials stressed during the twohour hearing that the residentia­l caps would not be used immediatel­y but, rather, if conditions were to become even more dire. The cap would be about 160,000 gallons annually — an amount that about 20% of the agency’s customers use — with the average singlefami­ly residence using close to 130,000 gallons annually, per the agency.

The authority hasn’t yet decided how it would implement or enforce the proposed limits, Mack said.

The residentia­l-use limits received widespread support from water policy experts, the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce and jurisdicti­ons within the agency’s limits, and opposition came from some southern Nevada residents who testified through video from Las Vegas.

“[For] a single-family home, you need to take into considerat­ion: How many adults, family members are in this home?” said Sarah Patton of Las Vegas. “We have grown children that are currently living with us. That is more water use.”

Las Vegas relies on the Colorado River for 90% of its water supply. Nevada has lost about 8% of that supply already because of mandatory cuts implemente­d as the river dwindles further. Most residents haven’t felt the effects because the Southern Nevada Water Authority recycles a majority of water used indoors and doesn’t use the full allocation.

Nevada lawmakers banned ornamental grass at office parks, in street medians and in entrances to housing developmen­ts two years ago, a move that other cities adopted. Last summer, Clark County, which includes Las Vegas, capped the size of new swimming pools at single-family residentia­l homes to about the size of a three-car garage.

By the next legislativ­e session in 2025, drought conditions could be much worse, Watts said, and “we have to decide what usage to prioritize” before then. Yet the longer-term goal is for Nevada to be a leader in responsibl­e use of the Colorado’s dwindling supply.

“It’s a sign to every other sector across the Colorado River Basin that we’re not going to wait for others,” Watts told lawmakers of the potential single-family residentia­l caps.

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