Las Vegas abandons proposal to pump rural Nevada groundwater

When I was writing Water is For Fighting Over five years ago, I built a little analytical model of Las Vegas water – projections of per capita demand and population growth, current patterns of water use and banking, risk to Colorado River water supply. At the time, the Southern Nevada Water Authority was aggressively pursuing construction of a pipeline to rural Nevada, to pump groundwater to augment the rapidly growing metro area’s supplies.

My model suggested to me that they didn’t really need the water.

I was timid in the way I wrote about it in the book:

The great failure in Las Vegas water management is an odd one. Like many cities, it has repeatedly underestimated its customers’ zeal for conservation, which results in overestimating how much water Las Vegas will need.

These failures are understandable. Water managers’ incentives favor erring on the side of caution. The consequences of having too little water are far greater than the consequences of having too much. So Las Vegas has continued to pursue expensive and politically costly plans to import more water into the Valley from rural Nevada, water that the Valley’s conservation success suggests may never be needed. (emphasis added)

Daniel Rothberg reporter yesterday that the Southern Nevada Water Authority has abandoned its pursuit of the pipeline:

The Southern Nevada Water Authority is ending a decades-long effort to build a controversial 300-mile pipeline to pump rural groundwater from eastern Nevada to Las Vegas.

On Thursday afternoon, the water authority confirmed in a statement that it would not appeal a recent court ruling that denied the agency a portion of its water rights.

The decision means the water agency is shelving a development project that has long inflamed tensions between rural and urban Nevada, from the Legislature to the courts, and eclipsed nearly all other water issues in the state.

This is one of the most striking examples to date of the argument I’ve been making ever since I had the epiphanies that drove my work a half decade ago on Water is For Fighting Over – municipal water demand is declining as fast as, or faster than, population growth, opening up enormous opportunities in our pursuit of sustainable water management in the West.