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Las Vegas water use down 25% this year, but a hot summer looms

A wet and cool start to 2023 helped Southern Nevada consume 25 percent less water from the drought-stricken Colorado River through the first five months of the year.

From January through May, the region’s consumptive use from the river was just under 61,000 acre-feet of water, Warren Turkett, a natural resource analyst for the Colorado River Commission of Nevada, told commissioners Tuesday.

That’s down from nearly 82,000 acre-feet of water consumed during the same period last year, which was near the same amount the valley consumed in 2021 (84,489 acre-feet) and 2020 (80,885 acre-feet).

Turkett said that reduction is due to continued conservation efforts coupled with weather that was cooler and far wetter than usual. But whether the region can keep that pace up for the entire year remains to be seen, especially with the latest seasonal forecast showing conditions that are likely to be warmer and drier than normal through September.

“It will be telling to see what happens over the summer months because those are the biggest water use months,” Turkett told commissioners. “The next few months … hopefully will be consistent with keeping that reduction.”

Nevada normally gets 300,000 acre-feet of water from the river each year, but low water levels at Lake Mead have reduced that down to 275,000 acre-feet this year through prior drought agreements.

After cutting its consumptive water use to 224,000 acre-feet last year — a reduction of about 8 percent compared with 2021 — Nevada is on pace to use even less water this year. The latest projection from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation released Tuesday shows the state on pace to consume about 202,000 acre-feet this year.

Consumptive use is the measurement of the total amount of water the region has used from the Colorado River minus Nevada’s return flow credits, which allow the state to pull extra water out of the river for every gallon of treated wastewater Southern Nevada sends back to Lake Mead.

The states that make up the lower Colorado River basin — Nevada, Arizona and California — struck an agreement in May on a plan to keep at least 3 million acre-feet of water in Lake Mead by the end of 2026.

That agreement, which needs to be approved by the Bureau of Reclamation, would require Nevada to keep an additional 75,000 acre-feet of water in Lake Mead in 2023 and 2024, with slightly smaller saving commitments the following two years.

The federal government is reviewing the proposal and has said it plans to release a draft environmental impact statement for the proposal this fall.

Contact Colton Lochhead at clochhead@reviewjournal.com. Follow @Coltonlochhead on Twitter.

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