There's a war going on, but it isn't in Iraq.
In Nevada, where water is scarce and growth is at an all-time high, municipal and regional water departments are fighting over who gets access to new water sources and how much they can drain.
For example, in mid-April, at the request of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, the state's water engineer OK'd a plan to pump billions of gallons of rural Spring Valley groundwater to Las Vegas. However, for the next decade the city will get only 40,000 acre-feet of water each year from Spring Valley—less than half of what the water authority asked for.
“The decision is conservative, but very reasonable,” says spokesperson Scott Huntley, who added that the agency doesn't plan to appeal.
Tapping into new water sources is only one aspect of the Southern Nevada Water Authority's plan to support the exponential growth in Las Vegas and surrounding communities. The authority will draw 180,000 acre-feet of water each year from rural areas such as Spring Valley. And, like many U.S. water agencies, it plans to expand its available water through reuse and encouraging customers to conserve.
The Southwest isn't the only region hit by water shortages. You'd think that a state surrounded by water on three sides might not suffer from the problem, but that's not the case in South Florida.
The Regional Water Availability Rule, which was proposed by the South Florida Water Management District and passed in early April, prohibits local water agencies from tapping the River of Grass in the Everglades as a new water source. Existing permits won't be yanked, but new permits will not be granted, despite the needs of booming areas.
South Florida Water Management District director Carol Wehle says the rule “sends a message to the utilities that, if you want to grow, there are many sources of water that you can access that are environmentally sustainable.”
And Curt Levine, head of the political action committee for the Florida chapter of the Sierra Club, says the rulings constitute a “wake-up call” to local governments.
“Water is not infinite anymore,” he says.
As water becomes more precious, regional water agencies will be forced to look for alternative water sources, ways to recycle and reuse, and encourage its customers to conserve.
For cities seeking solutions to current and looming water shortages, the U.S. EPA offers up WaterSense. The public-private partnership program is designed to encourage water conservation by promoting development and use of water-efficient products, and to assist agencies in educating constituents about water conservation. Visit www.epa.gov/watersense for more information.