By Kyle Roerink

Gov. Steve Sisolak hasn’t backed away from his bold position on a touchy subject. His opposition to the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s water grab remains firm.  

Since the SNWA’s $15.5 billion, 300-mile pumping and piping plan first emerged in 1989, no statewide politician has been so blunt in recognizing that the water SNWA wants does not feasibly exist. 

With the growing concern about the flows on the Colorado River and the state’s over-appropriated and threatened groundwater supplies, Sisolak’s position is as auspicious as it is forthcoming. 

 One late-January morning, he was on KNPR’s “State of Nevada” program explaining his anti-water-grab position. Later that day he was at a Las Vegas forum hosted by the Nevada Independent, further elaborating on his doubts about the project. He didn’t waffle in his stance and he addressed what is often SNWA’s elephant in the room: the exorbitant sums already spent on a project that hasn’t produced a drop of water. 

“I really believe that the water authority should have been investing in desalination 10 years ago as opposed to spending $70 million to buy ranches up north or buying up water rights,” Sisolak told Nevada Independent editor Jon Ralston. 

Ralston followed up by asking if he would do everything he could to find “alternatives.” 

“I am going to do everything I can,” Sisolak said. 

Sisolak’s position comes with an understanding of Nevada’s reality. As a former board member of the SNWA, the new governor is all too familiar with Nevada’s endless drought, Colorado River shortages, and the fact that our aquifers and surface water systems don’t recharge like they once did.  

A third of our hydrologic basins are over appropriated or at 100 percent capacity. Lake Mead continues to dip toward a 1075 elevation, a capacity that will trigger federally-mandated cuts by states like Nevada and Arizona.  More new water users continue to flood the urban cores of the state.

Two things are likely to remain constant for the governor during his time in office: Precipitation will not come like it once did, and our statewide population will continue to grow. The SNWA’s pumping and piping plan would only exacerbate the situation by exploiting the limited resources of Eastern Nevada and saddling Las Vegas ratepayers with a project that won’t meet their long-term needs. 

The good news for Sisolak is that he will not be alone in helping our state solve its water problem. 

We encourage him to call upon state lawmakers to not make any major changes to Nevada water law this session. The governor must veto bad bills like AB 30, which would allow the state to approve more permits for “paper water” rather than responsibly managing water that actually exists. 

Sisolak will also be appointing a permanent State Engineer to replace the recently retired Jason King. To help kill the water grab once and for all, Sisolak can choose a water regulator who opposes SNWA’s disastrous plan. 

Lastly, we can all help the governor by encouraging our local, state, and federal officials to champion more conservation and smarter growth. 

No one person can fix our problems. But accountability must start at the top. We must all work together to ensure that we have a secure water future where our big cities and open spaces don’t have to compete with one another just to survive.  

Kyle Roerink is Executive Director of the Great Basin Water Network.