Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Is It Illegal Water Banking Or Is It A Scam?

Because Nevada water law is so poorly written, Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) has been driven to make some horrible decisions. This has cost Southern Nevada water ratepayers hundreds of millions of dollars – and may eventually cost them over 15 billion dollars. That could amount to; worst case scenario, (so far) of 100 dollars more a month ratepayers may have to pay for at least the next 50 years!

So, it only makes sense that we might want to consider some alternatives.

SNWA claims they have considered alternatives, when they paid CH2MHill and Black & Veatch millions of dollars to evaluate their options. (Click here to see the overview.) One might expect that, at that price, we would get a very thorough report. But that didn't happen. Some very good options never got considered:

  1. Offshore Desalination – CH2M Hill did consider desalination, but only massive facilities right on the coast. Nobody wants that. On shore desal plants salt up coastline water, are vulnerable to tsunamis, are vulnerable to earthquakes, are vulnerable to sea level rise, are vulnerable to terrorism, are vulnerable to single point failures, and furthermore; they look like hell on the beach. Offshore desalination may be more expensive up front, but CH2M Hill never checked. One more thing; the price of desalination has dropped precipitously and desalination science is getting even better, even since this report (2008).
  2. Fixing of leaks in California, Arizona, and Utah pipes and aqueducts – SNWA could fix water systems in other states for more water allocated from the Colorado River. Californians lose a massive amount of water to leaks and poorly designed rainwater management. CH2M Hill did consider water use efficiency, but only for Colorado River water. And it doesn't appear they considered lining aqueducts for water leaving the Colorado River.
  3. Smart Breeding of California crops – SNWA could pay to develop the technology to breed crops that don't use as much water. Unlike genetically modified organisms, smart bred crops would be safe – even organic. And farmers wouldn't have to pay huge fees for GMO seeds to monopolistic companies like Monsanto. CH2M Hill did study vegetation management, which includes chopping down Nevada's forests (which bureaucrats call “treating”). But, somehow, they never considered developing low water use crops. (Too altruistic?)
  4. Solar and Wind power – CH2M Hill did study increasing water efficiency at power plants. But photovoltaic solar and wind power generation use no water. SNWA lost a huge opportunity when they allowed Nevada Energy to build a natural gas (steam) power plant recently. CH2M Hill never even considered the possibility of giving Nevada Energy financial incentives to install solar or wind – which would have saved thousands of acre-feet of water every year. Nonetheless, the opportunity still exists with the Navajo Generating Station – a coal fired power plant that uses 34,000 acre-feet of water every year. This water buffalo power plant is now over 40 years old and solar power is now likely cheaper. But... apparently SNWA still uses the CH2M Hill report without this recommendation to make their decisions.
  5. Buying farms – back in 2008, CH2M Hill ignored (then) State Senator Bob Beers' suggestion that SNWA buy up farms in California and use their water allotments. It wouldn't have taken that many farms and might have been much cheaper. But we'll never know how much cheaper from the report. CH2M Hill never even checked.
  6. Real conservation for future residents – Admittedly, this was not in CH2M Hill's charter for this study to find new sources of water. But, if new residents and businesses to Las Vegas were not allowed to have water wasting luxuries such as pools, fountains, lawns, invasive trees (such as palm trees), etc., then almost all of the new residents' water could be recycled. SNWA claims that interior water use has virtually no loss. So, just by requiring real conservation for new construction, there wouldn't be a need for new water. (Unless, of course, the water isn't really intended for the Las Vegas Valley, and won't flow back to the Colorado River – which would mean the watergrab isn't really for Las Vegas – just to be paid for by them. But that's another story...)

The CH2M Hill evaluation report is horribly flawed. They went so far as to study bringing icebergs from the Arctic and piping in water from the Mississippi River, but ignored practical ideas. Now, why would they do that? I'm sure that CH2M Hill's highly paid engineers are smarter than that. It's as if this whole study was merely propaganda to make the watergrab look tolerable. It looks as if they just left out the good ideas.

Which brings us to the why. Why did CH2M Hill evaluate SNWA's water options? For the money, of course. And if the watergrab pipeline does get built, will CH2M Hill make even more money? We don't know yet for sure, but this report makes one think CH2M Hill believes they will.

So, can we trust CH2M Hill? Click here to see what happened in Orange County.

Can we trust SNWA? If you trust me, NO! The SNWA propaganda machine is full of lies. If you don't trust me yet, consider this; hundreds of millions of dollars have already been spent. Heads would roll at SNWA if ratepayers found out that this money was wasted.

So, what can we do?

SNWA needs oversight.

It is very likely that SNWA management did not foresee the cost of desalination dropping like it did. And now they're going full speed ahead on a bad idea, because they can't admit how badly they predicted the future. I'm convinced there is a cover up. I've even called it Watergrabgate. But it could even be worse. Maybe this is all about the money instead. This could all just be a predatory loan scam.

Nevada has a Public Utilities Commission (PUC). This commission oversees power generation and fees. At one time, it really represented the public. Not so much anymore. But, at least it's better than nothing. Gross fraud, negligence, or criminal overcharging usually get noticed.

A bill has been introduced to the Nevada Legislature this year that would give the PUC oversight of SNWA. If you care about the environment – if you care about Rural Nevada's economy – if you care about exorbitant water bills; support this bill.

...and what if SNWA is just trying to bank Central Nevada water for later use? That's illegal by Nevada water law... But personally, I don't really see anything all that wrong with saving water for when we might really need it. If this is the case, let's change Nevada water law to reflect wise thinking. In fact, let's change Nevada water law to save water for when we really need it. 

This is a desert.  


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