Las Vegas Sun

November 28, 2015

Currently: 41° — Complete forecast


We need to continue protecting the Colorado River

When I was growing up in Las Vegas, we had artesian wells in the valley. We used groundwater for decades before finally bringing water from Lake Mead beginning in the 1950s. We felt then that access to clean, plentiful water was something we could take for granted.

I hope our children and grandchildren will have that same confidence. Part of my job as a Las Vegas councilman is to protect the interests of all those in our great city, ensuring we make smart decisions as we continue to grow and that our families will have clean water coming from the tap.

Last summer will be remembered for a long time — and I know that all of us are hoping for plentiful snow this winter to replenish some of the water that we so desperately need. Drought and fires across the West served as a reminder of our dependence on water and our need to conserve and protect that important lifeline.

Nearly 2 million residents in Southern Nevada, millions of visitors and local businesses depend on the Colorado River for safe and reliable drinking water. For most of the past decade, Southern Nevadans have worked to address growing water demands despite a shrinking water supply.

I fully support the right of every state to develop its full entitlement of Colorado River water and understand the challenges associated with choosing what type of development merits approval. However, ongoing drought conditions requires a more stringent evaluation of Colorado River Basin activities and a higher bar for justifiable use.

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar this month required companies to thoroughly research the effects on communities and water resources before allowing development of oil shale on taxpayer land in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming. To be clear, oil shale is not “shale oil,” which is currently drilled across the country. Oil shale is a rock found in those three states that must be excavated and then melted at extremely high temperatures for years at a time. Oil companies have been trying to find ways to turn this rock into oil for a century without commercial success.

I have some personal knowledge of oil shale, as I became a shareholder in the Oil Shale Corporation in the mid ’60s and still have one share in Tosco as a reminder of a bad investment.

This year, I sent a letter to Salazar asking for the complete environmental review. Because there has been no success in developing oil shale, little is known about the effects on water, specifically the Colorado River. What we do know, from independent analysis, suggests that any process would be extremely water intensive and could affect area water resources.

The consequences to the availability and quality of the Colorado River should be fully evaluated before going full-speed ahead with development.

Those of us who also have a stake in the future of the Colorado River should be considered in decisions about oil shale. That includes residents, business owners and recreation outfitters who have made Las Vegas their home.

As we all look toward a winter with a healthy snowpack, we need to remember the lessons of the drought and our decreasing water supply. We will continue to conserve and manage our water use in our homes, and it also is important that local, state and federal governments work together to consider the future of our region.

Bob Coffin represents Ward 3 on the Las Vegas City Council.

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