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With water cuts on the way in the West, does Las Vegas need to worry?

AP Photo/John Locher, File

FILE - A formerly sunken boat stands upright into the air with its stern buried in the mud along the shoreline of Lake Mead at the Lake Mead National Recreation Area on June 22, 2022, near Boulder City, Nev.

States that use the Colorado River were told they had to cut their water use by 15 to 20%. 

They had two months to come up with that plan. On Tuesday, we found out they didn’t do that

Only two states will face cuts —Nevada, 8% and Arizona 21%. And those cuts were already mandated by an agreement put in place a few years ago. 

The need to conserve, to use less water is dire. The water in Lake Mead and Lake Powell are down to about one-fourth of their former size. Lake Mead is the source of 90% of Las Vegas’ water supply. 

Where does this leave us? How worried should we be?  

“There was a lot of finger-pointing between states,” said reporter Alex Hager. “And it was also just a monumental task. I mean, they had never conserve that much water in one fell swoop before. So, when the federal government gave them the challenge of finding that much water to save, it was always going to be an uphill battle, just simply because it is already an over allocated river.”
If you take water away from agriculture, the biggest user of the Colorado River water in several states, expect economic and lifestyle repercussions, Hager said. 

“This is a juncture where little patchwork fixes and little measures to add a little extra water to the reservoirs to prop them up to protect operations there. They have gotten us this far, but are probably not going to be enough going forward,” he said.

Kyle Roerink with the Great Basin Water Network said we still have a looming question of where we’re headed. But he noted federal funding from Congress to help the issue -- $4 billion on top of what was included in the infrastructure bill. 

Also, the other states “weren't ready to commit to doing some of the hard work that Nevada has been doing for years,” he said. Which is what led to some water leaders calling the bluff of the Bureau of Reclamation. 

"We're in a precarious position. There's some solace, but again, a lot of uncertainty,” Roerink said. 

Callers on Wednesday were interested in knowing what the timeline looked like for changing lifestyles in Nevada. But in short, Pat Mulroy said we’re “fine for a while.” Casinos are not to blame, she said, or any indoor water users, because Nevada is uniquely set up to recycle all water that reaches the sewer system. 

“How bad is it going to get? Do we know that? No, we don't. We don't know how dry dry is, right?” the former Southern Nevada Water Authority general manager said. “So if we want to have some semblance of stability, then we're going to have to augment the system somehow, there has to be an augmentation piece, more water has to come from somewhere has to come from somewhere. And that has to replace a current Colorado River use.”

She said any solution won’t be a silver bullet, but more of a mosaic – several solutions at once. 

But most Nevadans won’t feel these cuts, she said.

“On paper, Southern Nevada has to reduce the amount of water it takes from the river by 8%. But because of your efforts, you've already done it, and you've exceeded that. So we're not going to feel it. We're not going to feel it, nothing's going to change in Southern Nevada,” Mulroy said.


Alex Hager, Colorado River Basin reporter, KUNC;  Kyle Roerink, executive director, Great Basin Water Network; Pat Mulroy, former general manager, Southern Nevada Water Authority 

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Dave Berns, now a producer for State of Nevada, recently returned to KNPR after having previously worked for the station from 2005 to 2009.
Christopher Alvarez is a news producer and podcast audio editor at Nevada Public Radio for the State of Nevada program, and has been with them for over a year.