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July 28, 2015

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Is ‘90 by 20’ water conservation campaign asking too much?

New group’s effort dips lower than Southern Nevada Water Authority’s stated goal for water usage

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Sam Morris

Near the Hoover Dam, the difference in the color of the rocks shows how high the water level in Lake Mead has been. Drought on the Colorado River has reduced the region’s water reserves.

Lake Mead Losing Water

An old fishing pier, not used for nearly 15 years, is now far from the water's edge at Lake Mead. Launch slideshow »

Kami Dempsey wants the phrase “90 by 20” to be in the back of Southern Nevada residents’ minds whenever water is used.

She wants them to think about it when they water their lawns, brush their teeth and refill glasses from the tap. She wants them to know water can disappear but that they can help prevent the evaporation of water resources by remembering “90 gallons per capita per day by 2020.”

Dempsey is the Southern Nevada coordinator for the 90 by 20 water conservation campaign, which targets residential water usage in Colorado River Basin cities. The campaign’s goal is for each home in those cities to limit per capita water usage to 90 gallons per day by 2020.

Drew Beckwith, the water policy manager for Western Resource Advocate, a nonprofit environmental law and policy organization that supports the campaign, said achieving the goal could have a tremendous effect on the dwindling Colorado River.

“It presents quite a bit of water savings from where we are today,” Beckwith said. “One million acre feet of water saved; that’s enough for more than two years of water supply.”

The campaign is focused on cities that use the Colorado River as a water source. A recent report put together by 90 by 20 indicates that 35 million people from Colorado, Utah, Arizona and Nevada rely on the river as a source of water.

Beckwith said water is not always on people’s minds because it seems limitless. After all, it is always there with the twist of a faucet. Yet, the current nationwide drought already has significantly depleted the Colorado’s inflow into Lake Powell and Lake Mead.

Beckwith said the drought should serve as a wake up call that water can disappear and that this campaign is the perfect way to do it.

“What (Western Resource Advocate) really liked about it is it’s a basinwide perspective with the underlying recognition that the Colorado River is in trouble,” Beckwith said. “More water is used in the Colorado River than Mother Nature is providing, and we need to look at a solution nationwide.”

To accomplish the goal in Southern Nevada, Dempsey said, partnerships with local businesses and water conservation groups such as Southern Nevada Water Authority are key. She said she believes their support will trickle down to families and homes throughout Southern Nevada.

Dempsey said she thinks residents of the Las Vegas Valley are ahead of schedule.

“I think we will find a lot of people already at the 90 by 20 effort,” said Dempsey, a Las Vegas resident. “I applaud our community. … For a community that’s grown in the last 20 years, the fact that we’ve reduced water as we’ve grown is phenomenal.”

Southern Nevada Water Authority Conservation Manager Doug Bennett, however, isn’t thrilled by the idea. He said it doesn’t consider that Southern Nevada doesn’t rely solely on the Colorado River for water and that it recycles 40 percent of the water it does use back into the river.

He said the Southern Nevada Water Authority hasn’t had many talks with the campaign but that the 90 by 20 message conflicts with Southern Nevada Water Authority’s goal. The water authority takes into account outdoor and indoor residential water, and it has set a goal of 125 gallons per capita per day.

“It’s a conservation theme, but it’s like two choirs singing different songs. It can clash as far as messaging,” Bennett said. “We think it’s unreasonable for people in different communities to be expected to perform at the same level.”

Dempsey said the program is in its infancy stages and needs support from groups such as Southern Nevada Water Authority to succeed. She is confident Southern Nevada residents will reach the goal. If nothing else, she wants them to remember 90 by 20.

“Everybody agrees water is the foundation to any community,” Dempsey said. “You can’t have growth, infrastructure, dining and quality of life without water.”

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