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Should we grow because of abundant water?

by Sharon Carter

As well as stating the obvious – Nevada’s most populous county (Clark) will likely run out of water in about 10 years and the counties that have abundant water (Lincoln, Nye, White Pine and Douglas) have some of the state’s smallest populations – state water planner Naomi Smith Duerr Thursday posed a question:

“Do we move the water to the people or encourage growth where the water is -essentially, do you want Las Vegas’s population in the rural counties?”

After more than four years, Duerr and her staff are in the final stages of preparing the state water plan. The plan is due to be completed and presented to the state’s 1999 Legislature in February.

At its Thursday meeting, the Douglas County Board of Commissioners got a look at a partial draft of the plan. In particular, Duerr shared portions of the plan that relate to Douglas County.

“No one knows your county better than you,” she said. “So if you see something that doesn’t look right in the (State Demographer’s) numbers or our other statistics, let us know.”

Recommendations on moving water to where it’s needed, called basin-to-basin transfers, will only be a small part of the state water plan, Duerr said.

A few of the other areas the plan will address include water conservation education, integrating surface and ground water management, water storage both above and below ground, meeting federal clean water mandates and other regulations, flood and watershed management and the potential of “water banking.”

Duerr said current Nevada water right regulations, the use-it-or-lose-it rule in particular, do not encourage water conservation in areas with abundant supplies. She is intrigued by the concept of water banking, which would allow holders of surface water rights to “deposit” (store) their excess water so others could “borrow” it.

“Right now there’s little incentive for conservation,” Duerr said. “But looking at the state as a whole, we should have enough for all our needs. My message is that we need to do a better job managing what we have.”

After the meeting, Duerr said there would likely be economic opportunities associated with water banking, but said that Nevada has strong anti-speculation laws in place.

“Good planning and zoning at the local level would make it work,” she said.

Duerr said the water plan she is writing is not rules, regulations or laws.

“I see it as a road map identifying good paths for the future – for mining, agriculture and gaming uses in the next 20 years,” Duerr said. “The plan is a set of recommendations we’ll take to the Legislature. It’s just a report, it’s up to the Legislature to do something with it.”

Douglas Commissioner Steve Weissinger said he planned to study the draft documents Duerr brought to the meeting and hoped to attend a Water Plan Advisory Board meeting this fall.

“This (information) will help me ask more questions,” Weissinger said.

The Record-Courier E-mail: rc@tahoe.com

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