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Water use down

Good news regarding Lake Mead. The precipitous drop in water levels may have stabilized somewhat.

The Review-Journal’s Henry Brean reported Sunday that the “amount of water being drawn from the Colorado River for use in Nevada, Arizona and California is on track to hit its lowest level in 20 years.” This, even though the states have 7 million more people today than they did in 1996.

“We’ve reached the point where population is going up and water use is going down,” said John Fleck, a water expert with the University of New Mexico.

Conservation, pricing, technology and Mother Nature all play a role. Although Southern Nevada still has the highest per capita usage in the region — a figure that doesn’t take into account the tourist population — Las Vegas has made major strides in reducing water waste and inefficiencies.

And it’s fair to say that Las Vegas gets a bad rap when it comes to water use. Critics often point out the area’s myriad golf courses and decorative water features on the Strip. But that ignores the reality that the vast majority of Colorado River water nourishes agricultural endeavors throughout California and the southwest.

In in his new book “Water is for Fighting Over,” Mr. Fleck makes the case that perception isn’t always reality. For instance, he argues that the Bellagio fountains represent a more economical use of a scarce resource than growing alfalfa in the California desert. The fountains consume about 12 million gallons of water a year — pulled from a well that previously sustained the Dunes golf course — the same amount it takes to grow eight acres of alfalfa in the Imperial Valley.

Farmers in California’s Imperial County get “ten times the water Las Vegas gets,” Mr. Fleck writes. “Las Vegas makes 10 times the money Imperial County farming does.”

The long-term health of the Colorado River depends on the continued cooperation of the seven basin states, particularly California, Arizona and Nevada in the lower basin. That fact that water draws have dropped while the region’s population expands represents tangible progress.

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