Monday, Oct. 7, 2019 | 2:54 p.m.
Nevada residents have long known our economy, environment and lifestyles directly relate to the availability of water.
Clark County’s 2.2 million residents are among 40 million people across seven states who depend on the Colorado River. In Washoe County, residents depend on the Truckee River. In both cases, the health of our rivers is tied to runoff from winter snowpack.
Yet climate change increasingly threatens the amount of snow we receive in the Sierra Nevadas and the Rockies, the sources of water for most Nevada residents.
A new report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change highlights the dire situation.
Among other topics, the report covers climate impacts on high mountain snowy areas and polar regions. In the U.S., this picture is pretty dismal. Existing studies note that the western U.S. snowpack has declined 21% since 1915 — that’s equal to Lake Mead going from completely full to completely empty. Additional research has shown that up to half of that loss can be attributed to climate change, which has already warmed and dried our region.
While the occasional strong winter has spared us from disaster so far, the long-term trend is negative. Under a business-as-usual scenario, by 2100 the Sierra Nevadas may see an average drop of 64% in springtime snowpack, with snow melting 50 days earlier. The Rockies face similar losses.
This poses a major economic and environmental challenge for Nevada, already the driest state in the nation.
If we don’t act, we’re looking at a dramatic change in our state’s landscape and wildlife. Families and businesses will struggle to meet their current water needs; growth will be out of the question.
And for businesses that rely on snowpack, the threats are existential. What will the ski resorts at Lake Tahoe do when there is a dramatically reduced ski season?
Facing this reality, we must work to limit the worst effects of climate change. We must work together, state-by-state and nation-by-nation to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases we release into the atmosphere.
I was proud to see Nevada take several steps to combat climate change and protect our water resources during my first term in the Legislature. I joined my colleagues to unanimously pass a law requiring Nevada to obtain half of its energy from clean sources like solar and geothermal by 2030. We also tasked our state government with tracking carbon emissions in every sector of our economy, and finding policy options to get us off of fossil fuels completely by 2050.
I introduced Assembly Bill 163, which does two important things to conserve water. First, it requires our utilities to measure how much water they lose, set goals to reduce those losses and make the information available to the public. Second, it makes sure we’re using the most water-efficient fixtures moving forward.
Under this new law, water-efficient faucets, showers and toilets will become the norm. These WaterSense products use 20% less water but perform the same or better than those meeting minimum standards. And by reducing hot water use, the bill not only saves water but also saves energy. The result is lower utility bills and reduced greenhouse gases: a win-win. All of these policies were signed into law by Gov. Steve Sisolak.
There is still more to do. With transportation causing most of our carbon emissions, we must promote electric vehicles. There are additional opportunities to reduce our use of water and energy. And all of this can be done in ways that create good jobs and economic opportunity for Nevadans.
Water scarcity is a problem we can address. While the latest UN report highlights some of the problems climate change presents, the actions taken by the Legislature and governor this year show us that a brighter future is possible if we work together and take bold action now.
Howard Watts III represents Assembly District 15 in the Nevada Legislature.