Water and our economy

Lately, I am asked, what are the most critical issues facing our state’s economy?

There are several answers, but the one that gets the least attention as an economic driver is water. Water is the essential ingredient to strengthening our economy, keeping our communities vibrant, providing jobs to employees and attracting necessary capital and investment to our state. The lack of diversified water resources, coupled with severe drought conditions, has made our state extremely vulnerable, and threatens both short-term and long-term economic recovery and job growth.

Without a reliable water supply, investment in Southern Nevada is at risk, and businesses will look elsewhere to develop and grow.

In short, if our water supply dries up, our economy dries up, jobs dry up, tourism dries up, property values dry up and investments dry up.

Here are a few sobering facts: 90 percent of our current water supply comes from the Colorado River. Severe drought conditions have caused average runoff into the river to drop to 66 percent of normal. The water level in Lake Mead has already dropped by 120 feet. If it goes down an additional 45 feet, we lose access to one of two intake pipes. Experts predict that if drought conditions do not quickly improve, we will lose access to this intake pipe by 2013 — less than four years away.

Henderson and Boulder City are particularly vulnerable, as they are 100 percent dependent upon the Colorado River water.

This week, the Southern Nevada Water Authority Board of Directors will vote whether to move forward to secure the permitting necessary for the In-State Groundwater Development Project. This project, which would develop unused groundwater available within Nevada, was approved as a conceptual plan in 2004 by the board. This vote will make the project shovel-ready, so it can move forward if drought conditions do not improve. The project would be governed by strict rules that are designed to ensure that no more water could be used than could be replenished in a given year.

This plan is a common-sense approach to utilizing the abundant water resources within our own state, while at the same time protecting the agriculture businesses that also depend upon this water. Making sure that the preliminary permitting is complete is a prudent move and will give businesses and investors confidence that our state is adequately preparing for the future.

The Southern Nevada Water Authority has been nationally recognized for its outstanding record of proactively managing and conserving this valuable resource. Through actively reducing the amount of turf, improving standards for building and home use and raising public awareness about the responsible use of our most valuable resource, Southern Nevada has actually reduced the overall amount of water we use even though our population has grown dramatically over the past two decades.

But conservation alone will not get the job done. The development of in-state water resources is critical to our future. If you care about job creation, if you care about the value of homes, if you care about future investment in our state and if you care about the quality of life in our community, then I urge you to contact the members of the Southern Nevada Water Authority board and ask them to move forward with the permitting of the In-State Groundwater Development Project.

Kara Kelley is president and chief executive officer of the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce.

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