Las Vegas Water Agency Seeks Power to Limit Residential Use

to 80 gallons a day during drought conditions. The water agency managing the city's Colorado River water supply is seeking authority to limit what comes out of residents' taps to 80 gallons a day during drought conditions.

Ornamental lawns are banned in Las Vegas, the size of new swimming pools is capped, much of the water used in homes is sent down a wash to be recycled, and Nevada is looking at another significant step to ensure the water supply for one of the driest major metropolitan areas in the U.S.

On Monday, state lawmakers are scheduled to discuss granting the Southern Nevada Water Authority the power to limit what comes out of residents' taps. The Southern Nevada Water Authority is the agency managing the Colorado River supply to the city.

If lawmakers approve the bill, Nevada would be the first state to give a water agency permanent jurisdiction over the amount of residential use. This would be a huge step in water conservation and would set a precedent for other states to follow.

The most sweeping omnibus bill to go before lawmakers this year is in Nevada, one of the seven states that relies on the Colorado River. The deepening drought, climate change, and demand have sunk key Colorado River reservoirs that depend on melting snow to their lowest levels on record.

"It's a worst case scenario plan," said the bill's sponsor, Democratic Assemblyman Howard Watts of Las Vegas. "It makes sure that we prioritize the must-haves for a home. Your drinking water, your basic health and safety needs."

The bill would give the water authority leeway to limit water usage in single-family homes to 160,000 gallons annually. It would also incorporate homes with septic systems into the city's sewer system and provide funding for the effort.

The agency said that the average home uses about 130,000 gallons of water per year, which would cause the largest water users to feel uncomfortable.

"We don't have any details on implementation or enforcement," Mack said. "This is just the proposal."

The Colorado River provides water for agriculture in many other basin states, including Arizona, California, Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, and Colorado.

About 90% of Las Vegas' water supply comes from the Colorado River, which has been gradually shrinking. This has caused Nevada to lose about 8% of its water allocation from the river. However, most residents haven't felt any effects because the Southern Nevada Water Authority recycles a majority of water used indoors.

Ornamental grass was banned at office parks, in street medians and entrances to housing developments by Nevada lawmakers two years ago. This past summer, the size of new swimming pools at single-family residential homes was capped at about the size of a three-car garage by Clark County, which includes Las Vegas.

"State edicts carry greater weight than city ordinances and send a stronger message," said Kyle Roerink, executive director of the Great Basin Water Network, which monitors western water policy.

"I'm hopeful that other municipalities that have been hesitant to clamp down on residential water use will follow suit as good stewards of the river," Watts said, adding that deeper cuts to the Colorado River supply are looming.

Snow that has inundated northern Nevada and parts of California is only a temporary reprieve from dry conditions. Some states in the Colorado River basin are gridlocked on how to cut water usage, with many of them looking toward agriculture to shoulder the burden.

As populations grow and climate change leaves future supplies uncertain, policymakers are paying close attention to all available options to manage water supplies, including municipal water.

Santa Fe, New Mexico, has a tiered cost structure where rates rise sharply when residents reach 10,000 gallons during the summer months.

The city of Scottsdale, Arizona recently told residents in an outlying community that it could no longer provide them with a water source. Scottsdale argued that this action was required under a drought management plan in order to guarantee enough water for its own residents.

In other areas of metro Phoenix, water agencies are not discussing capping residential use, Sheri Trap of the Arizona Municipal Water Users Association said in an email. However, cities like Phoenix, Glendale, and Tempe have said they will reduce usage overall.