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Members of Colorado River Caucus visit Lake Mead amid Southern Nevada water tour

As lawmakers in Washington, D.C., and President Joe Biden work to break through the political gridlock on the debt ceiling, some lawmakers are participating in a bipartisan congressional exchange, an effort to find common ground.

Nevada Rep. Susie Lee, who is co-chair of the Colorado River Caucus, hosted her Republican counterpart from California at several Southern Nevada locations, including a tour of Lake Mead.

The exchange is sponsored by the Bipartisan Policy Center and both are members of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus.

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Lee said the newly drafted lower basin proposal to conserve water among Nevada, Arizona and California gives all states three-and-a-half years to plan ahead and avoid being in the dire situation we faced last year. 

“The money from the Inflation Reduction Act will be used to compensate people, water districts, agricultural users to use less.  So there’s an agreement to cut 3 million acre-feet. 2.3 million of that will be achieved through these incentives to incentivize people to use less water," said Lee during the tour. 

But Lee said the debt negotiations on capitol hill put a lot of these conservation incentives at risk.  

“It looks like the final agreement will be at 2023 levels, in which case I do believe we will have the resources to provide those incentives,” Lee said.  

Republican Congressman David Valadao represents an area in central California often referred to as “America’s salad bowl,” where much of the country’s produce is grown. He and his family run a farm.  

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“The water that comes from here doesn’t necessarily affect my district directly but it’s an issue that affects all of California.  And when we talk about the incentives out there for water conservation, there’s a lot of things that people can do and invest in and those are things that continue to happen.  My family still farms, I still live on a farm and things that we’ve installed on our own farm like sub-surface drips so we can grow some of our crops will help with a lot less water,” said Valadao. 

The cities of Las Vegas and Phoenix and the farmlands in the central California area may be very different, but water use is a common issue. 

“One of the pressures with respect to the Colorado River is the tension between urban users and agriculture users, so it will be incredibly important and insightful for me to go out to Representative Valadao’s district to see what’s happening on the ground in his district, with his own family, with his agricultural users,” Lee said. “And so I think it’s important. If you’re trying to solve such a massive problem getting more knowledge and more insight does a world of difference when you sit down at a negotiating table and try to solve these big problems.”  

Information and knowledge is at the heart of another bill Lee introduced called the Open ET (evapotransportation) Act, which would collect, aggregate and provide detailed information on water use.  

“So, for instance, agricultural users will understand how much water is actually used to grow their plants, how much is evaporated, how much is wasted, how much goes back into the river. So, people can’t manage what they can’t measure.  So my bill will allow water users to have that type of data so they can effectively manage their water usage,” Lee said.

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The way we manage our water usage today, Lee said, will have an effect on future generations.

Yvette Fernandez is KNPR’s daily news reporter and announcer. She joined the station September 2021.