Imagine water arriving to your home not silently and effortlessly through your faucet, but rumbling into town on the backs of tanker trucks delivering gallons collected miles away. In parts of Texas, this scenario is already a reality as many small communities find themselves on the verge of running out of water. In Spicewood, TX, for example, an 8,000-gallon truck delivery was the clearest indication that the village’s wells could no longer supply the regions 1,100 residents. As Texas continues into yet another dry year in the state’s historic two-plus year drought—one many are calling the worst the state has experienced in the last 60 years.
While recent rains have helped remove some areas of the state—including Dallas–Fort Worth—from the federal drought map, the truth is that 90% of the state is still struggling with severe drought conditions. With Texas reservoirs at less than 65% capacity—the lowest recorded levels since 1978—many communities are discovering that water use restrictions are not enough to get them over the hump. As a result, many towns and cities are digging wells, constructing new pipelines, and trucking in water.
Meanwhile, in Nevada, the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA)—which provides water to Las Vegas—is asking for an 80% increase in its groundwater allocation. The increase would amount to a withdrawal of up to 105,000 acre-feet per year from the groundwater located in four rural valleys that surround the city. In the past, the SNWA has requested changes to groundwater distributions, but the Nevada Supreme Court struck down two previous attempts in 2007 and 2008. City Engineer Jason King must decide by March of this year how much the water authority can pump to the city through “a proposed $3.5 billion network of pipes stretching more than 300 miles” (www.rgj.com/article/20120204/NEWS07/120204005/Vegas-revises-request-rights-rural-water). Water recycling is also part of the city’s plan as well, with water officials promising that reuse could stretch allocations enough to supply almost 360,000 single-family homes.
Critics of the SNWA plan argue that tapping rural water supplies to feed urban demand would decimate local ranching communities and negatively impact delicate desert habitats, but deputy water authority general manager John Entsminger believes that the request is justifiable. Entsminger is quoted by the Review-Journal as stating, “Southern Nevada needs to diversify away from its 90% dependence on the Colorado River.” Las Vegas currently draws almost all its water from the Lake Mead reservoir behind Hoover Dam.
“The state engineer has been saying for the past 10 to 15 years that the proper way to develop groundwater is to do this sort of staged development,” continues Entsminger. “We believe we have provided a conservative plan for development ... that will protect the resource, allow for the collection of new data, and provide Southern Nevada with a new water supply.”
So what do you think? What can we learn about by comparing and contrasting the situation in Texas to what’s playing out in Nevada? Both states have been lauded for their effective water resource management, but are they doing enough? And how much longer before we see an all out war between rural water users and their urban counterparts?
This image from NASA, posted yesterday, shows that both Texas and Las Vegas are nowhere near out of the woods—their situations will only get worse.