New water czar says drought as serious as other natural disasters

/ Las Vegas Sun

John Entsminger talks to the media after being named the new general manager for the Las Vegas Valley Water District Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014.

Third Straw Construction

A rig of explosives is lifted by a crane during construction of the the Southern Nevada Water Authority's Launch slideshow »

The new head of the Las Vegas Water District and Southern Nevada Water Authority compared the seriousness of Southern Nevada’s 14-year drought to storms that devastated the Gulf and the East coasts in the last decade.

“We have one of the most dynamic economies of the world (throughout the Colorado River Basin) threatened by an ongoing drought that in its own way is every bit as serious as a Hurricane Katrina or a Superstorm Sandy. But it’s a situation that evolves over years and decades, not hours and days,” said John Entsminger, who takes over as head of the district when 20-year General Manager Pat Mulroy retires on Feb. 6.

“But unlike one of those situations where you’re reacting after the storm, we have the ability to be proactive to take the steps necessary to insure the ongoing vitality of our community and the river community as a whole,” Entsminger said.

He made his remarks at today’s breakfast meeting of the Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance, an organization that supports economic development strategies in Southern Nevada.

Entsminger said there are several options to address the drought, some of which he’s already rejected.

Click to enlarge photo

Canyon walls surrounding Lake Mead ringed with white mineral deposits where water once lapped indicate the drop in water levels, near Boulder City, Nev., Dec. 18, 2013.

“One of the things we’re not going to do is start arguing about the shape of the table,” he said. “You can’t work on the Colorado River without somebody telling you, ‘What we really need to do is renegotiate the compact.’”

The compact is an agreement among states that dictates the amount of water each is allocated.

Revising the compact, Entsminger said, is too politically challenging. It would require seven state Legislatures and seven governors to sign off on any changes.

Entsminger, who formerly was a practicing attorney, said he doesn’t think litigation is the answer either.

“Four generations of water attorneys have fought the fight and they have not added one gallon of water to the Colorado River,” he said.

Instead, Entsminger said, the district would continue down the path of conserving water and delivering it more efficiently.

Las Vegas is a global success story in conservation, with municipalities leading the charge to replace grass with desert landscaping. Since 2002, the Las Vegas area hasreduced its water consumption by 33 percent while the population has grown 25 percent.

“We used to call our water-smart landscape program Cash for Grass, and the Drug Enforcement Administration asked us to stop that,” he said.

The organization also will continue its strategy to bank water — not using its current allocation in exchange for using more at a later date.

Entsminger said Las Vegas has banked a four-year supply with other agencies. Through negotiations with other states, Nevada is banking water from the Virgin and Muddy rivers in Lake Mead. The state also negotiated international banking agreements with two states in Mexico.

To secure Southern Nevada’s Lake Mead water supply, work is continuing on a third intake, an $817 million tunnel beneath the deepest part of the lake that Entsminger called “the most important construction project going on in the Southwestern United States today.”

The so-called “third straw” will assure access to Lake Mead water, even in the worst drought conditions, he said.

A citizen committee will meet in February to make additional recommendations to the Water District board on conservation and the allocation of resources that the board will consider by the end of this year or early 2015.

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