Las Vegas Sun

December 22, 2014

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Norton praises wetlands project

Interior Secretary Gale Norton said a local urban wetlands restoration project is a perfect example of how Southern Nevada officials use money raised from federal land sold at auctions.

Norton toured the 3-year-old Clark County Wetlands Park near Sam Boyd Stadium after Thursday's federal land sale.

"Going from the intense excitement of a land auction to the serenity of the wetlands has been an amazing experience," Norton said after touring the park at the east end of Tropicana Avenue.

It was above 100 degrees. A small rabbit ran into the brush. Desert willows bloomed. Blue groesbecks, birds summering in the Las Vegas Wash, wheeled over the tall, green cattails.

"There's a need for land to develop, but there's also a need for areas like this," County Commissioner Chip Maxfield told Norton.

As Norton and other officials rode in golf carts on the looping trail around the park, Jeff Harris of Clark County Parks and Community Services explained how the Las Vegas Wash, carrying treated effluent from three wastewater plants, empties into the wetlands park.

Running through cattails and other marsh plants, the water becomes cleaner as it goes down stream, stripped of organic materials, pesticides and heavy metals, Harris said.

"This has been a model of cooperation between 28 agencies," Richard Wimmer, deputy manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, said.

"Twenty eight agencies?" Norton repeated, surprised. "Just to get 28 agencies to agree to anything is amazing."

"It's been a tremendous effort," Wimmer said, noting that the water authority is the lead agency for restoring more than 2,000 acres of wetlands. Floods and increasing flows from the treatment plants reduced the marshes to less than 100 acres in the mid 1990s. The county needs $1.5 million to complete purchase of 140 acres of private land for the park, Harris said.

Another $2.9 million is needed to restore and develop 80 acres between the existing wetlands and a neighboring mobile home park, then $12.6 million to build trails, habitats and interpretive stations and restrooms, Bruce Sillitoe, also with parks and community services, said.

If the wetlands park gets $25 million from the fifth auction of Bureau of Land Management acreage, 20 miles of trails can be completed, a six-mile scenic drive and an education center can be built, Harris said.

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