Nevada drought: Ski, recreation resorts says they are conserving water | SierraSun.com

Nevada drought: Ski, recreation resorts says they are conserving water

Anne Knowles
Special to the Sun

As seen in February 2015, the edge of Lake Tahoe barely reaches the end of the Kings Beach State Recreation Area pier; old water marks indicate where water levels once sat.

CARSON CITY, Nev. — Nevada's resorts and recreation industries say they work hard to conserve water, and more cuts are increasingly difficult to find.

"We have to now reach for the high-hanging fruit," said Virginia Valentine, president of the Nevada Resort Association, the primary lobbyist for the state's gaming and resort industry. "There will be diminishing returns."

Valentine spoke Tuesday during one of several industry panels held on the second day of the three-day Governor's Drought Summit in Carson City.

The summit, convened by Gov. Brian Sandoval, is looking at the magnitude of the state's drought and ways to combat it.

In November, after the summit and a follow-up meeting Sept. 28, the Nevada Drought Forum will deliver a report to the governor outlining its findings and recommendations.

Valentine's panel also included representatives from the ski and golf industries and wildlife recreation.

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Valentine said resorts pay 47 percent of the taxes that make up the state's general fund, but the industry consume less than 1 percent of the water statewide. In Southern Nevada, she said, hotels and casinos use about 7 percent of the area's water and much of that is recycled.

As an example of the industry's conservation efforts, Valentine cited Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, which she said has installed 11,000 low-flow shower heads and saved 30 million gallons of water through the use of tunnel washers in its laundry operations.

"We will continue to look for technology that saves water whether the drought ends or not," she said. "We'll continue to educate employees about their outside use and educate guests."

Andrew Strain, vice president of planning and government affairs for Heavenly Mountain Resort at Lake Tahoe, said the ski industry is working with new technology to better monitor the weather and more efficiently make snow.

But in the last few years, he said, the industry has been hit with both low snowpack and higher temperatures which make snowmaking more difficult.

Strain said Heavenly Mountain Resort on Lake Tahoe's South Shore had 124 inches of snow last year, when the average was 240 inches, while temperatures rose about 2 degrees above normal.

"We're used to dealing with one or the other," Strain said. "But if we can't get product on the hill by Martin Luther King's birthday weekend (in January), the market wanders off and finds other things to do."

The industry has reacted, in part, by adding features such as zip lines and rock climbing to make resorts a summer destination.

Strain suggested the state consider regulations allowing for some use of treated wastewater at ski resorts in order to find further ways to extend the water supply.

The golf industry, too, has stepped up to the plate, according to Jeremy Adkins, director of course maintenance at Angel Park Golf Club in Las Vegas.

Angel Park comprises three courses and in recent years replaced 82 acres of turf with desert landscaping, removed three aesthetic lakes and added an on-site weather station to track daily use of water.

The club uses 100 percent effluent water except around the club house where it's required to use potable water.

As a result, the golf club has cut water consumption by 102 million gallons and saved $238,000 in water expenses.

"Seventy properties in Vegas have removed turf equal to nine courses," he said. "And all use effluent."

Jeremy Drew, resource specialist, Resource Concepts Inc. in Carson City, said he was on the panel to represent fish, wildlife and boating.

Drew said one effect of the drought has been a drop in waterfowl hunting.

"If there's no water ducks just fly over," said Drew.

Another has been wildlife moving into suburban and urban areas in search of water.

"We've had bears at our office and our office is just five blocks from here," he said.

Drew also said the state's drought has created big problems for wild horses, an issue that stirs a lot of passion.

He said the biggest barrier is the federal government's environmental protection process known as NEPA, which delays worthy projects.

He cited efforts in Eureka County, for example, to deal with juniper and pinion pines on private property that can't be replicated yet on federal land because of the NEPA process.

"We need to look at the whole watershed," he said. "We need to expand and think bigger."

Anne Knowles is a freelance reporter who covers the Northern Nevada business market. She may be reached at aek326@gmail.com.