U.S. Water News Online
LAS VEGAS -- A state engineer has issued a new rule that
will enable local water providers to earn credit for any groundwater
they do not pump in a given year.
State Engineer Hugh Ricci took the action to protect the Las Vegas
area's principal groundwater aquifer while giving water providers
Under the rule, the Southern Nevada Water Authority and its member
utilities would be able to go back and use 85 percent of the
groundwater they do not pump in a given year. The remaining 15
percent of the unused water must be left in the aquifer permanently.
"So the basin sees a benefit," Ricci said.
Roughly 75,000 acre-feet is pumped each year from the area's
groundwater basin, and only 40,000 to 45,000 acre-feet of that is
replaced through natural recharge, Ricci said. Such over-pumping of a
basin can cause earth to subside and wells to run dry.
Efforts to bring the water basin back into balance have been
ongoing since 1955, when the state began issuing revokable permits
only in the Las Vegas area. No new water rights have been issued in
the area since 1992.
The Nevada Division of Water Resources continues to lobby the
state Legislature for more authority to pursue well owners who
over-pump their groundwater allotments.
Robert Coache, chief engineer for the division's Southern Nevada
office, said local permit holders, most of them small-well owners,
over-pumped their allotments by about 3,000 acre-feet in 2003.
About 90 percent of the area's drinking water comes from the
Colorado River, but North Las Vegas and the Las Vegas Valley Water
District pump a combined 46,000 acre-feet of groundwater a year to
meet peak demand in the summer.
"They now have additional capacity to not have to pump their
groundwater during the summer. It allows them to change their
operational schedule," Coache said.
The rule applies only to municipal water purveyors.
The average Las Vegas area household uses about 230,000 gallons of
water, slightly more than two-thirds of an acre-foot, each year.
The water authority is not required to use in-lieu recharge, but
Deputy General Manager Kay Brothers thinks the agency will.
"I don't want to underplay the in-lieu credits. I don't want to
overplay them," Brothers said. "It's a tool, just like the banks are
a tool. It's about water management and being flexible."
The water authority stores water in Las Vegas and holds
water-sharing agreements with Arizona and California.
Ricci issued the in-lieu recharge rule on Dec. 10. Local water
officials suggested the concept to the state engineer's office almost
10 years ago, he said.
Brothers said: "It's something Arizona does. It's something that
the western water world has been doing for some time."
Vincent Marden, president of the Nevada Well Owners Association,
is studying the details of the new rule, but he likes what he has
"As long as the water table doesn't drop, we see that as a
positive," said Marden, whose association boasts about 10,000
members, most of them the residential well owners in the Las Vegas
area. "Anything left in the ground would definitely help us."
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