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Legislative committee to consider water plan

by Sheila Gardner

Should the state’s updated water plan be approved by the Nevada Legislature?

That issue comes up for discussion today before the Senate Natural Resources Committee scheduled to hear Senate Bill 526 to review the plan and any restrictive language that says the plan is mandatory or applies to anybody outside the division of water planning.

Naomi Duerr, administrator of the Nevada Division of Water Planning, supervised the 4-year revision process. She said Tuesday she is concerned any effort to restrict implementation of the plan’s policies solely to her department would undermine the process.

“The plan has been an integrated, comprehensive process that involved a lot of people, agencies, organizations and local government. If the plan is only for use by the Division of Water Planning, it will really fail to meet its goal which was to improve water management statewide,” Duerr said.

“I’m concerned this inclusion will undermine and compromise the whole planning process that has gone on. Nothing in the water plan is mandated. It is an advisory guidebook. To imply that it is a mandate does disservice to the project. People are disappointed that it got to this point, that we would spend this amount of time, effort and money and the plan would be minimized. Essentially, it would dismiss the effort. The state would miss the opportunity to get ahead of the curve.”

Assemblyman Lynn Hettrick, R-Gardnerville Ranchos, said Tuesday legislators wanted a chance to study the voluminous document before making any recommendations.

“There are many, many issues in regard to the way it’s written,” he said. “If a committee of the Legislature ultimately votes to adopt this plan, the whole thing takes the force and effect of law as it is written. There is a great deal of concern about that.”

Hettrick the plan wasn’t written by lawyers who are completely familiar with Nevada law.

“The problem isn’t the plan per se, it’s just too big for us to sit down and have a two-hour presentation and then say we’ll adopt this,” Hettrick said.

“What you might see happen (today) is that we may acknowledge that Naomi’s office accomplished the task the Legislature asked them to do and produced the plan.We appreciate that it’s done, but someone has to sit down and go through it. There are conflicts and real implications in it for people who don’t even know what’s in it,” Hettrick said.

The updated water plan would be the Nevada’s first in 25 years.

“We’re one of just a few Western states without an updated plan,” Duerr said, citing New Mexico as the only other state without a plan. “Our last plan came out 25 years ago, and a lot has changed. Our population has tripled and we expect it to double in the next 20 years. Another reason we’re doing the plan is that we want to be prepared to meet future water demand challenges. We’re recommending new approaches and new ideas. Some good ideas are not so new and we want to reinforce them.”

Duerr and her staff conducted hearings on the plan for public input. She heard from ranchers and farmers, miners, public officials and citizens across the state.

“In terms of compliments, people say the plan is very well written and easy to understand. It’s comprehensive and covers a lot of issues and makes sound recommendations,” she said.

n Pros and cons. For every pro, however, there often is a con.

“Some comments questioned the need for a water plan. They supported the status quo and believe the system is working,” Duerr said. “Others believe the plan is a critical step in proactively planning water resources.”

She said planners tried to be “growth neutral,” taking no position on managing Nevada’s rapid growth.

“Some environmental organizations wanted to see more emphasis on managing growth and conservation. Others believed those measures should not be mandated. The plan is designed to be growth neutral. It does make strong recommendations to enhance water conservation,” Duerr said.

She said some critics of the plan were concerned that it would mandate water regulations.

“The plan is designed to be an education and planning and policy tool,” she said. “It doesn’t change existing rights or reallocate water in any way. The projections of future water use are based on existing trends. We’re looking at the past to project the future. We’re not saying this or that should happen. We’re saying how it looks like it is going to happen.”

n Interbasin transfers. While there has been philosophical opposition to interbasin water transfers, others felt that is the solution to the state’s water problems, she said.

Some proponents of the plan believe the state should be more into purchasing water rights, a philosophy that Duerr said is a “great concern” to rural counties worried about the threat to their tax base.

“I’d just like to end by saying there is a lot of concurrence about watershed planning and education, developing better data and measuring water use more accurately, also about assisting local governments in planning,” she said. “Everybody agreed the public needs to stay involved.”

The hearing is at 1:30 p.m. today at the Senate in Carson City.