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Las Vegas residents may face tap limits to limit water use

CARSON CITY, Nevada — Las Vegas has banned manicured lawns, limited the size of new swimming pools and sent most of the water used in homes down a wash to be recycled, but Nevada is looking at another significant step forward to ensure water, U.S. state law said Monday. The Southern Nevada Water Authority is expected to discuss giving residents the power to limit what comes from taps for supplies for one of the driest major metropolitan areas, the agency said. Colorado River Supply Management Aofiff.

If lawmakers approve the bill, Nevada will be the first state to give a water agency permanent jurisdiction over residential use volumes.

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The sweeping omnibus bill is the most important to go before lawmakers this year in Nevada, one of seven states. That depends on the Colorado River. Increasing drought, climate change and demand have overwhelmed key Colorado River reservoirs that rely on snowmelt to record low levels.

“It’s a worst-case scenario plan,” said Democratic Assemblyman Howard Watts of Las Vegas. “It makes sure we prioritize the essentials of a home. Your drinking water, your basic health and safety needs.”

Colorado River residential water use

A house with a swimming pool sits next to the desert on the edge of the Las Vegas Valley, July 20, 2022, in Henderson, Nevada.

John Locher/AP

The bill would require water authorities to limit water use by single-family homes to 160,000 gallons annually, include homes with septic systems in the city’s sewer system, and provide funding for the effort.

The average home uses about 130,000 gallons of water per year, meaning the biggest water users will feel the pinch, according to the agency.

The authority has not yet decided how it will implement or enforce the proposed limits, which will not go into effect automatically, spokesman Bronson Mack said.

Colorado River water is used primarily for agriculture in other basin states: Arizona, California, Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, and Colorado. The river stretches 1,400 miles from the Rocky Mountains in Colorado to the Gulf of California and supplies water to about 40 million people in the United States and Mexico.

Las Vegas relies on the Colorado River for 90% of its water supply. Meanwhile, Nevada has lost about 8% of that supply since mandatory cuts have been implemented as the river continues to decline. Most residents have not felt the effects because the Southern Nevada Water Authority recycles most of the water used indoors and does not use the full allocation.

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Nevada lawmakers two years ago banned ornamental grasses in office parks, in the middle of streets and at the entrances to housing developments. This past summer, Clark County, which includes Las Vegas, limited the size of new swimming pools in single-family residential homes to about the size of a three-car garage.

Kyle Roerink, executive director of the Great Basin Water Network, which monitors western water policy, said a state mandate carries more weight and more power in messaging than a city ordinance.

Watts said he hopes other municipalities that have been hesitant to cut off residential water use will follow suit with deeper cuts to Colorado River supplies as “good stewards of the river.”

The snow that flooded northern Nevada and parts of California acted as just one Temporary relief from dry conditions. Some states in the Colorado River basin are gridlocked on how to reduce water use, with many of them looking to agriculture to carry the burden.

Municipal water is a relatively small percentage of overall Colorado River use. As population growth and climate change make future supplies uncertain, policymakers are paying close attention to all available options for managing water supplies.

Santa Fe, New Mexico, uses a tiered cost structure where rates increase sharply when residents reach 10,000 gallons during the summer months.

Scottsdale, Arizona, recently told residents of a community outside the city limits that it could no longer provide them with a source of water. Scottsdale argued that it needed to take action under a drought management plan to guarantee adequate water for its own residents.

Elsewhere in metro Phoenix, water companies are not currently discussing capping residential use, Sherry Trapp of the Arizona Municipal Water Users Association said in an email. But cities like Phoenix, Glendale and Tempe have said they will reduce usage overall.

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