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Nevada 3-day drought summit starts Monday

CARSON CITY — Water, the lack of it and how the driest state in the nation can best stretch every last drop will be the focus of a three-day drought summit that convenes Monday in Carson City.

It’s the penultimate event before a panel convened by Gov. Brian Sandoval meets Sept. 28 to narrow down the voluminous testimony gathered over the past several months and identify priorities and recommendations to be included in a report due Nov. 1.

“Water is our most precious resource, and during this prolonged period of drought, it is critical that we work together to forge a path of sustainability for future generations,” Sandoval said Friday.

Sandoval, a second-term Republican, established the Nevada Drought Forum in April. Speaking at the time on a dusty, dried-up lakebed in Washoe Valley just north of the capital city, the governor said the goal is to develop best practices for water use and conservation.

“The Drought Summit will expand on the work of the Drought Forum by bringing together the best minds in the scientific, conservation, government and industry sectors, enabling them to communicate directly about shared challenges, explore opportunities for collaboration, and leverage collective resources relating to water management,” he said. “I have asked the Forum to deliver their recommendations to me by the end of the year, and the Summit will facilitate an extended discussion to help develop those recommendations which will shape future public policy initiatives.”

After four years of drought, Nevada rivers are reduced to a trickle, reservoirs are shrinking and groundwater tables are dropping. Extended periods of dryness are nothing new in Nevada, and Sandoval said in April that the Silver State was in much better shape than California, where Gov. Jerry Brown ordered a 25 percent reduction in water usage.

But the looming question is how long the drought will last. A recent study concluded last year’s snowpack in the Sierra Nevada, a crucial water source for California and western Northern Nevada, was the lowest recorded in 500 years. And while climatologists are predicting a strong El Nino this winter — a phenomenon that could bring above-average precipitation — they also point out that Mother Nature can be fickle and there are no guarantees.

The Colorado River, which feeds Lake Mead and is the primary water source for 2 million Southern Nevada residents and 40 million visitors annually, has experienced drought for more than a decade. But Southern Nevada water managers say aggressive conservation efforts have shored up supplies despite Lake Mead’s retreat.

On Thursday, Southern Nevada Water Authority board members approved plans to lease 150,000 acre-feet of water to California from the Las Vegas Valley’s reserves in the coming year. John Entsminger, authority general manager, said the volume equates to about a six-month supply for the Las Vegas Valley.

The authority has roughly 1.5 million acre-feet of water banked in various locations, enough to supply the community for more than seven years at current consumption levels, Entsminger said.

During a Nevada drought forum in July, the powerful resort industry said Las Vegas’ oasis in the desert, adorned with fountains and water shows, is sustainable through conservation and recycling.

MGM Resorts International Vice President Chris Brophy said the company has saved 2 billion gallons of water since 2008.

In Northern Nevada, farmers and ranchers are attempting to adapt to the dry conditions by trying alternative crops and irrigation methods. Many, though, have let fields go barren because of a lack of water.

The confab being held in the Assembly Chambers at the Nevada Legislature will feature government officials, water managers, various industry representatives, conservationists and federal land overseers. The meeting will be video-conferenced to the Sawyer Building in Las Vegas and streamed online through the legislative website.

Contact Sandra Chereb at schereb@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901. Find her on Twitter: @SandraChereb.

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