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Experts Debate Plans to Weather 21st Century Droughts

Lake Mead is part of the Colorado River system, key to water planning in the Southwest.(Ladyheart/Morguefile)
Lake Mead is part of the Colorado River system, key to water planning in the Southwest.(Ladyheart/Morguefile)
June 29, 2017

LAS VEGAS -- The 21st century is going to be a whole lot drier than the last one - in Nevada and up and down the Colorado River basin. Water managers are going to have to use every tool in the arsenal to keep the water flowing.

That's the main message at a panel on water resources being held Thursday night at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, hosted by the Nevada Conservation League. Pat Mulroy, who led the Southern Nevada Water Authority for 25 years and now is a fellow with the Brookings Institution, will lead the discussion on how to manage our water infrastructure to deal with the effects of climate change.

"And how do we make that resilient enough to be able to withstand dramatic changes in weather patterns - whether those are drought-related or whether those are storm- and flood-related?” Mulroy explained.

Nevada is now in its 17th year of drought. So planners from Salt Lake City to Denver, Albuquerque to Las Vegas, LA and San Diego are working together to make better use of what we've got.

The panel is open to the public, and starts at 6 p.m. at the Greenspun College of Urban Affairs at UNLV.

Mulroy praised desalination plants in California and programs that repurpose wastewater, line agricultural ditches with concrete, and rotate crops on a fallowing schedule.

"There are pockets of water that in the past we have deemed too expensive,” she said; “but I think in the new reality of the 21st century, the cost of those will look pretty minuscule compared to the consequences of not having it available."

Mulroy also advises spending money to fight climate change and upgrade aging water infrastructure - much of which has been around for 100 years or more. She is optimistic that if policymakers take bold action, the cities that depend on the Colorado River Basin won't have to face crippling water shortages in the years to come.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - NV