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State may deal water to Nevada

CAP board OKs $330 mil plan

Shaun McKinnon

The Arizona Republic
Dec. 3, 2004 
Water-starved Nevada could take as much as 1.25 million acre-feet of Arizona's Colorado River allocation under a deal endorsed Thursday by the Central Arizona Project board.

Arizona would guarantee the water to Nevada in return for $330 million and a pledge of political support for efforts to restore top-priority status to the Colorado River water that flows to Phoenix and Tucson through the CAP Canal.

That support is worth more than the money to Arizona, which is trying to persuade California and the other Colorado River states to rewrite an old deal that left the CAP supply vulnerable to water shortages on the river. Without those changes, the CAP could lose much of its flow before other states had to cut back.

For southern Nevada, the agreement would provide a desperately needed source of water to replace what drought took away on the Colorado. The 1.25 million acre-feet represent nearly three years' worth of water for the Las Vegas area, though it would be delivered over about two decades.

An acre-foot of water is 325,851 gallons, enough to supply one or two households for a year.

The deal, which will go before the Arizona Water Banking Authority next week, was written to protect Arizona's water supply if the drought reduces water available from the Colorado. Nevada agreed to cut its supply if Arizona cities face shortages.

"This is not about money," said CAP board member Grady Gammage. "The reason to do this is good water management. This is a giant game of diplomacy, and when you can gain an ally without hurting yourself, you should do it."

Still left to be answered is who will manage the money as it comes in. Nevada will pay $100 million in 2005 and then 10 installments of $23 million beginning in 2009. CAP officials want assurances that the money will be kept in restricted accounts so it's available to pay for the water.

Much of the money would be used to pay the costs of storing and recovering water in the state's underground water banks, but up to $100 million could also go toward protection of riparian areas along Arizona rivers and streams.

The deal is actually a revised version of an existing water-banking agreement between Arizona and Nevada.

Under the original terms, Arizona promised its best efforts to supply Nevada with as much as 1.25 million acre-feet of water, but there was no guarantee.

Using the water bank, Arizona stores some of its unused river water in underground aquifers.

The banked water can be used within the state to help protect groundwater supplies or it can be stored on behalf of Nevada.

Pat Mulroy, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, told the CAP board Thursday that the Las Vegas area needed to secure a water source until it could develop several new in-state supplies.

Those supplies won't be available for several years.

She said Nevada is willing to pledge not just the money but the political support to aid Arizona's CAP supply.

The deal that downgraded the CAP to low-level status "makes no sense and needs to be revisited," she said. "We are as committed as you are to revising those issues."

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