Friday, February 26, 2010

My Advice To Rory Reid: Fix The System

This whole watergrab(gate) thing doesn't have to derail Rory Reid's hopes for Governor. But watergrab(gate) is potentially very damaging to his campaign. When presented as poor management and a cover-up, watergrab(gate) makes Rory Reid look incompetent and uncaring. But there is more to the story.

Nevada water law sucks... Nevada dry.

Rory Reid can claim he felt that Las Vegas had no choice on the watergrab. Even if Southern Nevada doesn't need the water now. Even if desal/trade is now cheaper. Nevada water law is written in such a way that Las Vegas is forced to either use it or lose it.

If Southern Nevada doesn't have the rights to Great Basin water, somebody else will apply for it. That somebody else could easily be multinational corporations that could bottle the water and export it all far away from Nevada. This would result in the same environmental/rural economic devastation as the SNWA groundwater development project (the watergrab), but with little benefit for any Nevadans.

What really needs to be done is to change Nevada water law. Right now there is no provision in Nevada water law for saving water for future use. And right now there is no provision for responsible use.

Nevada water law essentially states that “first in use gets first in right.” What this often means in the real world is that the first to waste the water gets senior Nevada water rights for free. This is no way to manage water in the desert!

Because of Nevada water law, Las Vegas was faced with a difficult decision; pump the water from the Great Basin out, now... or do without the water, because somebody else would.

Nevada water law essentially just slices up the pie. This law does not promote responsible, sustainable, or long-term use in any way. As governor, Rory Reid could help fix Nevada water law.

Let's think about what we really want. Southern Nevada can now, for much less money, desalinate sea water offshore and give that water to California in exchange for a bigger allotment of the Colorado River. Since Las Vegas isn't growing at the rate it once was, the Groundwater Development Project is looking far less affordable and far more economically risky. But Southern Nevada doesn't want to just give up the water rights to Great Basin water... and of course, rural Nevada doesn't want to be left a wasteland.

Why not reform Nevada water law to allow Southern Nevada to hold limited long-term water rights – to store water for future use. These water rights should be limited, so as not to prevent some development of Rural Nevada. In other words, if people want to build houses in the watergrab areas, and maybe have a garden, Nevada water law should not prevent them (as it does now in places like Baker, Nevada). Growth in Rural Nevada should not be stifled by the desire for continued growth in Southern Nevada.

Personally, I feel that renewable industries should have priority when it comes to Nevada water law. Since Rory Reid agrees with me that agriculture can be a renewable industry, maybe some provision should be made for responsible agricultural development.

And most importantly, if we allow Southern Nevada long-term water rights to Great Basin water; we need to insure that the water is stored there until there is a real water emergency. Long-term water rights should promote long-term storage above all. Nobody should be allowed to convert long-term storage into short-term use unless there is a serious emergency – unless there are many people literally going thirsty. (And the reason for this is simple, if the Great Basin groundwater is taken, all life dependent upon it will literally die. We should only be willing to kill off whole ecosystems under the most desperate of situations.)

At present, Nevada water law promotes mismanagement of our State's most scarce life-giving resource. As Governor, Rory Reid can help fix a system that is destined for environmental devastation and ultimate economic collapse. There is an opportunity here to turn an ugly water war into a long-term plan for water use in the high deserts of Nevada.

I would support Rory Reid if he supported these water law changes – and I suspect most people in the watergrab areas (and even Las Vegas) would also.

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