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COVID-19 Shutdowns Have Minimal Impact On Water Use

Associated Press

The coronavirus pandemic has hit Nevada hard.

As of early May, there were more than 5,600 confirmed cases statewide and close to 300 deaths – that we know of. The economic impact has been sizable, too. The Las Vegas Strip is closed down and more than 400,000 Nevadans have applied for unemployment.


But is the closure of some 150,000 hotel rooms a good thing for Lake Mead, which supplies 90 percent of Southern Nevada’s water? 

“Go out there with a couple of thimbles and you’ll make an equally large dent," said Pat Mulroy, the former head of the Southern Nevada Water Authority. 

Mulroy told KNPR's State of Nevada that although the resorts in Las Vegas use a lot of water they return a lot of water back into the system.

Dave Johnson, deputy general manager for engineering and operations at the water authority, explained that every drop of water that goes down a drain in Southern Nevada flows to the water treatment plant where it is treated and returned to Lake Mead. 

“You’re not seeing a tremendous impact on Lake Mead as a result of this reduction because that would be returned to Lake Mead anyway,” he said.

However, water that is used outdoors on landscaping is considered consumptive use and doesn't get returned to the lake. With the weather warming up, there could be more of that use.

“As the data is showing us right now, the residential use usage is relatively consistent with last year or the year before, during this period of time,” Johnson said.

Andy Gebhardt, director of operations and water quality for Truckee Meadows Water Authority in Northern Nevada, agreed that it is unlikely the pandemic and shutdown will have much of an impact.

“We don’t anticipate it affecting the water supply really in any way." he said, "As far as revenues, we’ve seen a little dip in commercial but commercial only makes up about 10 percent of our overall sales. We’ve seen a slight increase in residential… but weather is the huge depender. If you have warm days people are going to water more.”

Mulroy pointed out that residents are largest consumer of water and it's unlikely that their habits will change because of the pandemic and subsequent shutdown.

The shutdown is expected to create a major shortfall in government budgets dependent on sales and property taxes. Johnson said the SNWA is expecting a $107 million shortfall.

However, he doesn't expect that to translate into rate hikes for customers. Instead, the agency will put off capital-heavy projects.

Gebhardt said a rate hike for his agency was supposed to start in May but the board decided to put it off until at least September.

"People are struggling right now and it just didn't seem the right time to hit them with a rate hike," he said.

Pat  Mulroy, former head of Southern Nevada Water Authority;  Andy Gebhardt, Director of Operations and Water Quality, Truckee Meadows Water Authority;  Dave Johnson, Deputy General Manager for Engineer and Operations, Southern Nevada Water Authority 

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Bert is a reporter and producer based in Reno, where he covers the state legislature and stories that resonate across Nevada. He began his career in journalism after studying abroad during the summer of 2011 in Egypt, during the Arab Spring. Before he joined Nevada Public Radio and Capital Public Radio, Bert was a contributor at KQED and the Sacramento News & Review. He was also a photographer, video editor and digital producer at the East Bay Express.