Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval stood in a dry, dusty lakebed and made a startling point — the place where he stood was covered by 3 feet of water only a few years ago.
Nevada is reeling after four years of drought, and the Republican governor of the nation’s driest state made the case for a statewide review of water use by announcing the creation of the Nevada Drought Forum.
Here’s a look at Nevada’s drought and what state officials are doing:
WHAT IS THE GOVERNOR DOING?
Sandoval’s executive order creates a seven-member panel of administrators, scientists and water officials to study the state’s long-term water plan.
The panel will collect information from water providers and state agencies. Work will include organizing a “Drought Summit” in September.
The forum is required to submit bi-weekly summaries and to prepare a report for the governor on possible state actions by November.
The forum will rely on a soon-to-be-released report on states’ drought policies commissioned by the Western Governors Association, which Sandoval chairs.
State water engineer Jason King said Sandoval’s decision to focus on drought is telling.
“There’s a myriad of things that he could have taken up as a signature issue, and he took on drought,” he said.
HOW DOES NEVADA USE WATER?
Like California, most of Nevada’s water goes to agriculture. The Division of Water Resources estimates 60 percent of the state’s water goes to irrigating crops, with 22 percent going to municipal water districts.
The mining industry uses about 13 percent of the state’s water, but King said the majority of that is pumped back into groundwater basins.
Republican Assemblywoman Robin Titus, who represents most of Lyon and Churchill counties, said farmers are accustomed to dealing with limited water and the agriculture industry will need to adapt. She said her family farm is considering a move from water-intensive alfalfa to less thirsty crops such as grapes or hops.
“In Nevada, agriculture has faced water restrictions since the inception of the state,” Titus said.
WHAT ARE LAWMAKERS DOING?
Water-related bills rarely garner headlines, but Nevada lawmakers are proposing a number of them.
Lawmakers are considering a bill that would apply $500,000 in state funds to cloud-seeding — dropping chemicals on clouds to induce rain and snow.
King, who has served as the state water engineer since 2010, is backing two measures to update language on water rights and give his office more power to regulate groundwater during droughts.
Titus is sponsoring a measure that would fund river sediment cleanups to deter water-wasting floods, and another to modify water usage on farms.
Part of the reason the Legislature isn’t taking sweeping action to address the drought is because most local water districts already encourage some conservation.
Titus singled out the Southern Nevada Water Authority, saying other agencies could learn from its conservation efforts.
“They reuse just about every drop of water that comes out of Las Vegas,” she said.
The authority for years has had strict regulations on water use, including limits on watering lawns and washing cars. Violators receive a $100 fine on the second offense. The authority pays residents $1.50 per square foot to replace grass with desert landscaping.
WHAT ARE OTHER STATES DOING?
California Gov. Jerry Brown issued an order last week requiring cities and towns to reduce water consumption by 25 percent.
Brown’s order, which coincided with news of record low snowpack in the Sierra Nevada, also requires businesses to cut back water usage and offers rebates for consumers to replace wasteful appliances with energy-efficient models.
Not all Western states have taken such dramatic steps to reduce water use, but the most drought-stricken have made efforts to study water use.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert formed a broad-based commission of elected officials and water stakeholders to study the state’s long-term water supply and issue a 50-year water plan by the end of 2015.
Herbert issued a statement Thursday urging Utahns to conserve water due to low snowpack.
Nearly a quarter of Arizona is facing severe drought conditions, but state officials say water restrictions aren’t expected anytime soon. Arizona law requires the state’s water program to publish weekly updates on drought conditions and study the long-term effects.