Las Vegas Sun

August 18, 2019

Currently: 92° — Complete forecast

Sun editorial:

Proper funding of water authority is vital to Southern Nevada’s future

With Southern Nevada locked in the grip of a marathon drought and increasingly feeling the effects of climate change, smart management of our water resources must be among our highest priorities.

That being the case, local leaders should support a proposal to permanently adopt a quarter-cent sales tax that has been in effect since 1999 to support the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

The water authority board is scheduled to decide today whether to ask the Clark County Commission to make the 20-year-old tax permanent. The SNWA board should do just that, and the county commission should grant the request.

At the same time, questions over how the tax is being spent should be addressed. Some local leaders and an advocacy organization based in Northern Nevada have raised concerns that the SNWA has used the tax revenue toward planning for a pipeline project that has been fiercely opposed in the north, and managing eastern Nevada real estate that the authority purchased to secure water rights.

For the record, a spokesperson for the SNWA told Las Vegas Sun staff writer John Sadler that the tax revenue has gone into its major construction and capital plan, and helped fund such projects as a third intake shaft into Lake Mead and Brock Reservoir. Both of those projects have buttressed the region’s water supply. The SNWA also said it hadn’t spent the money to manage the ranch land.

Whatever the case, those concerned about the tax are calling for a review to determine how the money is being spent. By state statute, the revenue is supposed to go toward “acquisition, establishment, construction, improvement or equipping of water and wastewater facilities.”

A review is absolutely fine — public scrutiny of expenses is never a problem.

But none of that should dissuade leaders from permanently adopting the tax. If the review finds that money is being steered to the wrong places, corrective action can be taken.

But meanwhile, given the stresses that our region faces with the management and stewardship of our water resources, we should maintain the $108 million annual stream, as it benefits all Southern Nevadans.

Nor should leaders be swayed by County Commissioner Tick Segerblom’s argument that Strip resorts are special beneficiaries of the tax, being that they would have to pay more if it weren’t in place. That doesn’t stand up for a couple of reasons — the hotel industry is good at recycling water, and the resorts would merely pass along their extra costs to visitors if the tax were discontinued.

So even though the tax isn’t set to expire anytime soon, there’s no compelling reason not to act now in making it permanent. After all, we’ve been living with it for 20 years and enjoying the benefits of it.

Keep in mind, the stresses we’re experiencing are deadly serious. Although our water situation improved slightly this year — thanks to above-average snowpack and the new multistate Colorado River agreement — climate change and heavy demand for water in the Southwest continue to leave our region with little cushion.

Eliminating the revenue would amount to a self-inflicted wound.

Ample and continuous funding of the SNWA is an absolute necessity. Las Vegas was founded because of its water, and we continue to exist because of our careful management of that essential resource. SNWA is vital to those interests.

The calls for transparency are fine, but a knee-jerk call to reduce funding in this critical area is a huge mistake.