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Conservation groups call for reworking how Colorado River water is measured

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Posted at 5:49 PM, Aug 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-17 00:50:30-04

LAS VEGAS, NV (KTNV)  — Today's federal shortage declaration is a major development, no shocker to anyone watching the dropping water levels at Lake Mead.

13 Investigates brings us a different perspective on all this, from people who have been concerned with the way we've been using water for years.

"Today's response was predictable and we knew it was coming because we've been watching the levels at Lake Mead decline for years now," says Kyle Roerink is with the Great Basin Water Network, a conservation group working on water issues in Nevada and Utah. "So so this was this was no surprise that it was coming."

Lack of rain and less snowmelt from the Colorado Rocky Mountains combined with increased population and water consumption are the primary causes for low water levels. Our history of water deals is a little more complicated.

"But the biggest problem is that there is more water on paper than there actually is wet water in the river," says Roerink. "And this has been a flaw on the Colorado River as it relates to its management since the beginning of the management of the river which started in 1922."

Roerink wants to stress that today is not a doomsday scenario.

"But projections that the Bureau of Reclamation was putting out today shows that we are getting closer and closer to some scarier situations where we will be losing a continued greater share of our allocation of the Colorado River."

And there could be what he describes as draconian water rationing if it gets worse.

According to the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA), that's not needed yet.

"Because we have successfully pre-conserved these reductions, we will not actually need to reduce deliveries to any of our member agencies," said John Entsminger, general manager of SNWA.

Conservationists say every drop counts and we need to continue to reduce water use, but they say a bigger picture was not addressed today.

"What we're not hearing is that there needs to be a new accounting mechanism for how water is used on the river," explains Roerink. "And that's the big problem that goes back to the fact that we're living in a world where we're looking at paper water and we're saying, 'Oh, well, we can use that amount because it exists on paper,' when we need to be living in a world where we say, 'well, that's how much-wet water we have and that's what we have to live with.'"

Roerink says the SNWA is a leader when it comes to educating its customers about water waste, so that's good news. But the real challenge ahead is changing how we consume water and manage the Colorado River.

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