LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — The U.S. Department of Interior announced the launch of a new large-scale water recycling program on Thursday, drawing $180 million in federal funds to get it started. Spending will reach $450 million in the coming years.
Although specifics were lacking in the announcement, officials described it as “part of an all-of-government effort to make the Colorado River Basin and all the communities that rely on it more resilient to climate change, including the ongoing drought in the West.”
Funding comes from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which has already paid for $310 million in projects through the Bureau of Reclamation.
“Water is essential to everything we do: feeding families, growing crops, powering agricultural businesses, sustaining wildlife and safeguarding Tribal subsistence practices,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said. “As the climate crisis drives severe drought conditions and historically low water allocations, it will take all of us working together to safeguard our communities.”
Water projects for Nevada totaling $63 million have already been announced at a “water conservation summit” in late August. The Bureau of Reclamation has been at the center of many of the projects through its WaterSMART program, which is aimed at water management agencies considering or planning larger water reuse projects.
Lake Mead rebounded over the past year — but it is still only at about a third of its capacity. Record snowpack in the Upper Colorado River Basin has brought relief during the current 23-year drought, and a water shortage was officially declared in August of 2021.
A good water year means drought restrictions will change from Tier 2 back to Tier 1 beginning on Jan. 1, 2024. Water available to Southern Nevada will increase by 4,000 acre-feet to 279,000 acre-feet for the year. Water officials say Nevada won’t use nearly that much. An acre-foot is enough water to provide for two to three households for a year.
“The Bureau of Reclamation is supporting work on multiple water recycling projects throughout the West,” Reclamation Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton said. “With this new program, we will be able to fund larger projects to grow local water supplies and serve more individuals.”
But conservation is on everyone’s mind. Climate change has reduced the amount of water available from the Colorado River, which provides for 40 million people.
In Las Vegas, 90% of the valley’s water comes from Lake Mead. The lake has been steadily filling since early July. At noon Thursday, the lake was at 1,066.36 feet — about the projected peak for the year. Levels are expressed as the elevation of the lake’s surface above sea level.
“As we work to address the drought crisis, it’s critical we are advancing innovative, forward-looking solutions that help communities develop local, drought-resistant water supplies,” Touton said.