From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):
Is Nevada’s past the future for other Western states? The Western Governors’ Association pondered that fate at its conference Tuesday at The Broadmoor.
Since 2002, in the midst of the worst drought in modern times in the Colorado River basin, Las Vegas has reduced its water use by 33 percent while increasing its population by 25 percent. The drop in usage has been caused by active conservation, the economy and a program that pays property owners to rip up sod in Nevada’s largest city.
But Las Vegas has not rested, spending $817 million to drill a supply tunnel into the deepest part of Lake Mead and banking a five-year supply of water in underground storage.
“It’s as scary looking back as it is looking ahead,” said John Entsminger, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, describing the 15-year drought in the Colorado River basin. “Other states will have to look at similar projects.”
Entsminger said it will be important for other states to do more with less water as Nevada has done. The seven states that depend on the Colorado River represent a trilliondollar economy that, if those states alone were a nation, would be the fifth largest in the world.
States must find a way to serve growing populations while providing water for agriculture and industry, he said.
“One of the things we need to get away from is the false divide of water for sectors of the economy,” Entsminger said.
The other states represented at the convention are at different points on the same path, sharing the common themes of conservation, more storage and finding new ways to capture more water.
While storage in Lake Mead has increased by 1 million acre-feet in the past 10 years, the chance is increasing for new shortfalls in the next three years, said Assistant Secretary of the Interior Mike Connor.
“It’s not going to get us out of this drought situation any time soon,” Connor said.
Colorado, blessed with abundant snowpack, feels pressure from neighboring states, said James Eklund, executive director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.
“Our snowpack is our greatest reservoir,” said Eklund, who has been charged by Gov. John Hickenlooper to come up with a state water plan through an ongoing grass-roots effort. “But we only consume one-third of our water, while two-thirds heads to 18 other states.”
Colorado’s water plan is drifting toward the more-with-less position, with heavy emphasis on conservation.
“We have to find how to meet demand with a less reliable water supply,” Eklund said.
More from the Chieftain:
Western governors are divided about the role of the federal government in water projects.
Some wanted to push permits for new storage projects through more quickly, while others saw the need for better data about the impacts of projects.
“What it means is the difference between getting a project done and not getting it done,” said Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead, arguing for streamlining the permit process.
But C.L. “Butch” Otter of Idaho told how a winter water storage program in his state depleted the Snake River aquifer over time.
“Water is a state issue and there will be strong pushback from any state with more federal involvement,” added Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback.
On the other hand, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock said more climate data is needed: “We’re going to need more data, not less, as we move forward.”
One of the problems with federal approval has been conflicting environmental laws passed by Congress, said Assistant Secretary of the Interior Mike Connor.
From the Associated Press via the Stamford Advocate:
Ten western governors met Tuesday with Gina McCarthy, the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, to talk about cleaner power plant rules proposed by the Obama administration — including cuts in greenhouse gas emissions from coal. A sampling of what some governors have to say about it:
ARIZONA: GOP Gov. Jan Brewer objects to the EPA plan and believes the agency has overstepped its authority, her spokesman has said. Arizona state lawmakers passed a law in 2010 that bars new state rules or regional agreements to reduce greenhouse gases unless the Legislature approves. It’s unclear how the EPA proposal will play out in Arizona.
COLORADO: Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper said it was “refreshing” that McCarthy has been looking for input from governors on the EPA proposal. He noted that Colorado is moving to diversify its energy portfolio into an “all-of-the-above” approach. On climate change, he said, “I do think that climate change is being caused by mankind’s activity.”
KANSAS: Republican Gov. Sam Brownback was blunt in his assessment when the rules were announced. “This is more of the Obama administration’s war against middle America,” he said. Kansas relies on coal-fired plants for about 63 percent of the state’s electricity.
MONTANA: Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock said he believes coal is an important energy source for Montana (a coal producer) and the country. However, Bullock said: “In Montana, whether you’re a farmer, whether you’re a fisherman … you know that the climate is changing and we need to do something about it.”
NEVADA: Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval praised McCarthy for communicating with him before and after the rules were announced. While Sandoval said his administration is still reviewing the plan, he noted that Nevada already is decreasing its reliance on coal, citing legislation he signed that will close a couple of coal plants and replace them with renewable energy sources. “We felt like we were ahead of the curve on this,” he said.
SOUTH DAKOTA: GOP Gov. Dennis Daugaard has said he is concerned that the rules will raise energy prices — a worry other governors share. Daugaard wants a clearer understanding of how involved the federal government will be in formulating state plans to reduce emissions.
WYOMING: Republican Gov. Matt Mead says he is skeptical about man-made climate change. [ed. emphasis mine] He’s reserved judgment on the EPA plan until his coal-producing state has studied it. Mead has said he will “fight for coal” if the regulations aren’t reasonable.
Ten Western governors are meeting this week in Colorado Springs to discuss issues including the drought and the environment.
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval are hosting the meeting at The Broadmoor hotel, which starts Monday.
Environmental Protection Agency Gina McCarthy is scheduled to speak to the governors on Tuesday, a week after announcing big cuts in pollution produced by the country’s power plants.
The other governors attending are Jan Brewer of Arizona, Butch Otter of Idaho, Sam Brownback of Kansas, Steve Bullock of Montana, Jack Dalrymple of North Dakota, Dennis Daugaard of South Dakota, Gary Herbert of Utah and Matt Mead from Wyoming.