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In response to Western drought, a flood of legislation

Joseph Morton, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in Weather News

Southern Nevada residents rely on the Colorado River for nearly all of their municipal water supply and have tried to mitigate the situation through infrastructure projects and conservation initiatives. That includes investigators who patrol the Las Vegas Valley on the lookout for faulty sprinklers and other water waste.

Such efforts have produced results. Nevada’s consumption of Colorado River water has fallen 23% since 2002 even as the population has risen more than 52%, Entsminger said. Nevada recently adopted a ban on using Colorado River water for irrigating decorative grass in medians, parking lots and other areas that will go into effect by 2026.

And yet the need for more action can be seen in the closed boat launches and “low water” warning signs all around Lake Mead, not to mention the “bathtub ring” that shows just how far its water levels have fallen in recent years.

Farmers from Blythe, California, to central Arizona wonder about the future of their operations if conditions remain dry and their share of the river water continues to be curtailed. It will be a rolling crisis due to complicated considerations over the seniority of water rights. The federal shortage declaration is first hitting the Central Arizona Project, which supplies water to farms growing crops such as alfalfa, cotton and corn.

If farmers can’t get the water to grow their crops, it would represent both a blow to those local economies and potentially a hike in food prices for consumers across the country.

Drought mitigation measures have been included in the bipartisan infrastructure bill that was approved by the Senate and is now pending in the House, as well as the proposed reconciliation package being assembled by Democrats.

 

The bipartisan bill included provisions that would provide $400 million for the WaterSMART grant program that focuses on improving water conservation and $450 million for large-scale water reuse projects.

Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee have proposed adding another $100 million for water reuse projects through their portion of the reconciliation bill, as well as $50 million to support water technology development such as desalination techniques. It also would provide $1 billion for near-term drought relief programs and another $150 million specifically to help Native American tribes mitigate drought impacts. And it would provide $2 billion over the next decade to help Native American tribes settle water rights issues.

It also includes funding to gather data critical to understanding and managing drought conditions, including $150 million for U.S. Geological Survey streamgages and $50 million for snow water supply forecasting.

Democrats see the funding for reuse projects as particularly important with several of them in the works now, including one led by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

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