Drought Forum's Recommendations Could Help Shape Water Policy - KTVN Channel 2 - Reno Tahoe Sparks News, Weather, Video

Drought Forum's Recommendations Could Help Shape Water Policy

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In April, Governor Brian Sandoval signed an executive order that created the Nevada Drought Forum. Eight months later, the eight-member panel released its recommendations for dealing with drought.

"It was eight months of work and there was a fair amount of back-and-forth, and a lot of information, but at the end of the day, the recommendations were all unanimous. We all felt good about them," Leo Drozdoff, Chairman of the Nevada Drought Forum said.

Drozdoff says a lot of emphasis went into new ways to conserve water, which could include restrictions for water usage during certain times of the day and week.  It could also incentivize residents who meet certain conservation benchmarks.

"There's a study out there that shows Nevada uses 190 gallons of water a day, per person. Maine uses 54," Lynn Hettrick, Deputy Director of the Nevada Department of Agriculture said. "So, I think we have opportunity and I think we can move forward with some savings, yet."

Hettrick says he is pleased with the drought forum's findings. Since Nevada is the driest state in the country, he knows how important water is for industries like agriculture.

"We're always in a drought," Hettrick said. "Agricultural folks are always dealing with drought and drought conditions, preserving as much water as they can. So, they're very careful of what water they get. They are good stewards of the land and the water they have."

The drought forum says many policies can happen immediately, to help plan for water management in the future. Others could take many years to implement. Part of that means educating the public and teaching kids how to use water in a more practical way, at a young age. Other recommendations, like making some changes to water law, could take some time. One of those policies would be changing the "Use it or Lose it" provision.

"That's there to make sure that people don't speculate with water, that water is actually going to be put to beneficial use, but in times of drought, what it means is that people, in order to show that they're beneficially using their water, are basically pumping a lot more water than they need to," Drozdoff said.

A change in law could also allow people to capture small amounts of rainwater as long as it doesn't interfere with other residents' water rights. 

The forum believes a long-term plan needs to be put in place, that could include more recycling of water, and even possible investments in desalinization technologies, as long as they are affordable. Officials say Nevada has a very cooperative relationship with other western states.  Nevada has interest in desalinization technologies because Las Vegas and San Diego both get their water from the Colorado River.

"If we put a desalinization plant in San Diego and supplied their water off the ocean, then Nevada could retain the fresh water in the Colorado River and offset it," Hettrick said. "So, it could have a huge impact in the state of Nevada."

Some of the forum's plans may seem ambitious and come with high costs, but Drozdoff says that is why they are making recommendations, now, hoping they can be accomplished, down the road.

"Some of these can be done, fairly quickly, and some of these need to be prioritized, based on other demands for resources and the like," Drozdoff said.

Lakes, rivers, and groundwater are all affected during prolonged years of drought. It can take many years to make recharge those sources. That is why the drought forum says it is important for people to have good conservation practices during dry and wet years.

"We have a few dry years, people talk about it a little bit," Hettrick said. "Then we have a wet year and it kind of goes away. It's not on the top tier anymore. We can't do that anymore."

Officials say they are encouraged by the snowpack from the early winter storms, but know that more dry years are inevitable, and that's why the state is planning ahead. They also encourage residents to read the Nevada Drought Forum's report.  You can find it at http://drought.nv.gov

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