The Las Vegas Water Agency is seeking authority to limit residential use

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — Ornamental lawns are banned in Las Vegas, the size of new swimming pools is limited and most of the water used in homes is sent down the drain for recycling, but Nevada is considering another major step to ensure a water supply of one of the driest US metropolises

State lawmakers are scheduled to discuss Monday the possibility of restricting what comes from residents’ taps to the Southern Nevada Water Authority, the agency that manages the Colorado River’s water supply to the city.

If lawmakers approve the bill, Nevada would become the first state to give the water agency permanent jurisdiction over residential usage.

The sweeping, comprehensive bill is one of the most significant to be introduced to lawmakers this year in Nevada, one of seven states that depend on the Colorado River. A deepening drought, climate change and demand have sunk key Colorado River reservoirs that depend on snowmelt to record lows.

“This is a worst-case plan,” said the bill’s sponsor, Democratic Assemblyman Howard Watts of Las Vegas. “This ensures that we prioritize what we need to have in the house. Your drinking water, your basic health and safety needs.”

The bill would give water authorities the ability to limit single-family water use to 160,000 gallons per year, connect homes with septic systems to the city’s sewer system and provide funding for the effort.

The average home uses about 130,000 gallons of water a year, meaning the biggest water users will experience a shortage, the agency said.

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

Water from the Colorado River is largely used for agriculture in the other states of the basin: Arizona, California, Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico and Colorado.

Las Vegas relies on the Colorado River for 90% of its water supply. Nevada has already lost about 8% of that stock due to mandatory cuts imposed as the river continues to shrink. Most residents were unaffected because the Southern Nevada Water Authority recycles most of the water used on premises and does not use the full distribution.

Nevada lawmakers banned ornamental grass in office parks, medians and driveways of residential developments two years ago. Last summer, Clark County, which includes Las Vegas, limited the size of new swimming pools in single-family homes to about the size of a three-car garage.

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

Watts said he hopes other municipalities that have been hesitant to end residential water use will follow suit as “good stewards of the river” with even deeper cuts to the Colorado River’s water supply.

The snow that flooded northern Nevada and parts of California is just a temporary reprieve from drier conditions. Some states in the Colorado River basin can’t decide how to reduce water use, and many are looking to agriculture to shoulder the burden.

Municipal water supply represents a relatively small percentage of the total use of the Colorado River. As the population grows and climate change leaves 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 dramatically when residents reach 10,000 gallons during the summer months.

Scottsdale, Arizona recently told residents of a community outside the city that it can no longer provide them with a water source. Scottsdale argued that action is needed under the drought plan to ensure enough water for its own residents.

Elsewhere in metro Phoenix, water agencies are not currently discussing limiting 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.

___ AP Writer Susan Montoya Bryan reported from Albuquerque, New Mexico. Stern is a member of the Associated Press Corporation/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms. Follow him on Twitter: @gabestern326.

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