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October 2, 2014

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The Water Crisis

Water pipeline timeline

1987

Clark County Population: 616,650

The Las Vegas Valley Water District realizes drinking water shortages may occur early in the 21st century because of population growth, which is putting more demand on the Colorado River and Lake Mead. The water district begins seeking water in deep carbonate rocks to supplement resources from Lake Mead, from which 90 percent of the water supply is drawn. The first hole drilled northwest of Las Vegas at Indian Springs is dry, but in mid-September, drillers find water at 1,335 feet.

Southern Nevada draws 244,000 acre-feet of water from its annual allocation of 300,000 acre-feet from the Colorado River, which supplies Lake Mead. It's the largest draw from the lake in the valley's history.

1988

Clark County Population: 661,690

The Las Vegas Valley Water District asks the 1989 Nevada Legislature to ban using drinking water in Southern Nevada's man-made lakes.

The Las Vegas Valley Water District measures street runoff for the first time and finds almost 6,000 acre-feet splashing across the valley's concrete. The study also finds that between 50,000 acre-feet and 60,000 acre-feet are wasted by over-watering lawns in the Las Vegas Valley.

1989

Clark County Population: 708,750

Southern Nevada consumers use more water than predicted, jumping from a 4 to 5 percent use rate in 1987 at 173,000 acre-feet drawn from Lake Mead, compared to 19 percent at 202,000 acre-feet in 1988, the Las Vegas Valley Water District says. That use figure jumps to a more than 25 percent use rate in 1989.

In December, the Las Vegas Valley Water District files an application with the state engineer for 589,000 acre-feet of water from the rural counties of Lincoln, White Pine and Nye to be delivered in a pipeline. The pipeline system is estimated at $1.5 billion.

1991

Clark County Population: 835,080

Seven local water agencies form the Southern Nevada Water Authority to address water issues on a regional basis instead of on an individual water agency basis. Pat Mulroy is named its director while still general manager of the Las Vegas Valley Water District.

1994

Clark County Population: 990,564

The Southern Nevada Water Authority begins preparing a regional capital improvement plan to meet increasing water demands, including water resources from rural areas. The plan is flexible enough to approach water expansion projects in phases to respond to either rapid growth or slower population increases.

1998

Clark County Population: 1,261,150

Southern Nevada Water Authority buys $25 million worth of ground water in Coyote Springs, a proposed housing development straddling the Clark-Lincoln county line northeast of Las Vegas. The water authority agrees to pay $5.2 million for 1,800 acre-feet from Coyote Springs immediately.

1999

Clark County Population: 1,327,145

The sales tax in Clark County increases by a quarter-cent to 7.25 percent on April 1. The money is earmarked to help deliver almost twice as much water to the valley through a proposed pipeline, dipping into rural groundwater resources beyond the 300,000 acre-foot annual allotment from the Colorado River.

2004

Clark County Population: 1,715,337

As the Las Vegas Valley faces drought conditions at Lake Mead, the Las Vegas Valley Water District goes before the state engineer in March to ask for 17,000 acre-feet a year from the Three Lakes and Tikaboo valleys, north of Las Vegas. The water will supply about 85,000 people.

The water authority approves an agreement in August that pays the Bureau of Land Management — which controls most of the land in Lincoln, White Pine and Clark counties, on which the water authority wants to put wells and pipelines — $4.5 million to supervise an environmental analysis performed by an independent contractor. The application asks for the right to build wells and pipelines across hundreds of miles of federal land in the three counties.

In September, a proposed utility corridor linking Lincoln and Clark counties for the pipeline's pathway wins approval from the House Resources Committee.

In November, the Southern Nevada Water Authority board approves an agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Moapa Valley Water District and developer Coyote Springs Investment that allows the water authority to build wells and pipelines on rural areas north of Las Vegas.

2005

Clark County Population: 1,796,380

In March, the Southern Nevada Water Authority puts a price tag of $2 billion on the plan to extract and import water through a pipeline from underground sources in rural Lincoln and White Pine counties. The plan includes building 461 miles of pipeline, 200 miles of power lines and four pumping stations to import water from Coyote Springs, Delamar, Dry Lake, Cave, Spring and Snake valleys. The water authority says it aims to pump an estimated 125,000 to 212,500 acre-feet of water to Las Vegas from the rural areas each year.

In May, the Bureau of Land Management hears a flood of testimony against plans by the Southern Nevada Water Authority to pump water from rural Nevada to Las Vegas. The hearing is part of an environmental impact statement analysis.

Also in May, the water authority boosts the cost to build the pipeline and pumps to bring more water to Las Vegas to $7.6 billion from an estimated $2 billion. The ultimate price tag could be $12.8 billion and will not be paid off until 2059, water authority financial analysts say.

In June, the Bureau of Land Management extends public comment on a proposed Virgin and Muddy Rivers water development project. The comment period is supposed to end June 10, but the extension lasts until Aug. 1.

2006

Clark County Population: 1,874,837

In May, White Pine County rejects a $12 million offer by the Southern Nevada Water Authority to drop its opposition to a plan to pump millions of gallons of water through a pipeline from eastern Nevada into the fast-growing Las Vegas area but agrees to continue talks on a potential settlement.

In June, the state engineer rules that the water authority cannot move wells that were approved in one part of south-central Nevada to other spots closer to Las Vegas.

At the same time, the U.S. Geological Survey, with cooperation from the National Park Service, releases a study that says wells proposed for White Pine County in northeast Nevada could hurt springs and ranches in and around Great Basin National Park.

The Southern Nevada Water Authority buys seven ranches in northeastern Nevada within a year's time. The wells are expected to supply groundwater for sensitive habitats in an effort to protect wildlife from the effects of pumping groundwater from rural counties north and east of Las Vegas to the state's largest metropolitan area.

2007

Clark County Population: 1,954,319

In April, the state engineer issues a 56-page decision that secures Las Vegas up to 60,000 acre-feet of water a year from Spring Valley, a lush rural basin 250 miles north in White Pine County. Southern Nevada had applied for 91,000 acre-feet from Spring Valley, but was granted only 40,000 acre-feet a year for 10 years. Only after careful study, clearance was granted to slowly remove 20,000 acre-feet more.

In September, the Southern Nevada Water Authority goes before the state engineer with its application for 180,000 acre-feet from Spring Valley.

In October, federal, state and local water officials note the continuing drought conditions at Lake Mead, which has dropped 100 feet in eight years.

2008

Estimated Population: 2,000,000

Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman publicly opposes the Las Vegas pipeline encroaching on his state's water supply. Huntsman tells a Salt Lake City radio station that he's optimistic the strategy used by his state and its counties will protect the water resources in western Utah. The governor stresses that water is the lifeblood of the West and he will not allow Utah groundwater to be depleted.

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