Western drought: NV forum finalizes recommendations for Gov. Brian Sandoval | SierraSun.com

Western drought: NV forum finalizes recommendations for Gov. Brian Sandoval

Geoff Dornan
gdornan@nevadaappeal.com

CARSON CITY, Nev. — The Nevada Governor's Drought Forum on Friday finalized a laundry list of recommendations on how to deal with drought conditions in the Silver State.

The recommendations, to be presented to Gov. Brian Sandoval in December, range from specifics such as universal installation of water meters to broad-brush ideas such as continued refinement of state water law to provide more ability for the state engineer to deal with different situations.

Leo Drozdoff, director of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and chairman of the forum, said they didn't want to be too restrictive in some areas, "where there's more work to be done."

Changes in water law, for example, Drozdoff said, must be vetted through the legislative process and the forum didn't want to tie anyone's hands or raise unnecessary opposition by being too specific.

The recommendations deal with topics ranging from water conservation, monitoring and research to water law, financial and technical assistance and outreach.

It was the section on information and outreach, Drozdoff said "that brings us closest to the most people."

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"A lot of the other ones are stuff the government does," he said.

That issue was raised by Ray Bacon, director of the Nevada Manufacturer's Association, who said most of the recommendations lack "public engagement."

"To get the message out to John Q (Public) to say, here's the things you can do with your personal life," he said. Bacon said if the recommendations and the plans finally developed don't make that connection, the entire effort has missed the point.

He also urged the group to better tie energy to water.

"Energy and water in this state are absolutely connected," he said.

Bacon said the recommendations will eventually impact nearly 3 million in Nevada.

"Everything you're doing makes sense but you've still got to get down to the people," he said.

In addition to installing water meters statewide, the recommendations call for water efficiency standards for new development, tiered rate structures to promote conservation and time-of-day/day-of-week watering restrictions. But the group voted to give the state engineer the authority to lift some of those restrictions when justified.

The state engineer would get enforcement ability and the power to require installation of meters, including on domestic wells. The plan would review "use it or lose it" water rights provisions and look for incentives to conserve both in drought and non-drought years.

New power plants would be required to use dry cooling or more efficient water use technologies.

The plan seeks legal changes to strengthen the state engineer's ability to address critical management areas and provide flexibility in developing management plans for over-appropriated basins. Most water basins in the state have issued water rights appropriations well in excess of the available water, many of those rights dating 100 years back.

The recommendations call for a major expansion of monitoring and research of water resources including development of a statewide monitoring network and collaboration with other organizations to improve forecasting and create an early drought warning system.

They call for creation of a water grants program to help provide capital improvements to aging water infrastructure as well as long range planning.

The plan would encourage development of local and regional water plans that include long-term demand projections and work to treat and reuse more water to augment existing supplies.

It would also encourage development of more water storage, desalinization of waters in the state and cloud seeding to increase the amount of available water.

Outreach efforts would expand and be better coordinated so the message about drought and conservation, as well as educational programs, can be more uniform and focused. It calls for a dedicated state staff to handle public information efforts.

Finally, the plan would give the governor the power to declare a drought without, as at present, having to go through the federal Agriculture Secretary.

After the proposals are presented to Sandoval, the next step in developing legislation or directing administrative changes is up to him.