Anyone notice a cause and effect?

The “cause” is on the Business page of Tuesday’s newspaper …

… while the “effect” was on the front page.

The keep building new homes and businesses, while demanding that everyone conserve water.

They keep handing out “will serve” letters.

In 1991 the water authority stopped issuing will-serve letters to developers until it could get a handle on how much water was already committed.

The population of the county at the time was about 750,000. It is now more than 2.2 million, and the state still gets only 300,000 acre-feet of water from Lake Mead and that may be cut soon due the drought.

Of course, the county is still pressing that groundwater grab from rural Nevada.

Cause and effect?


Could Nevada use L.A. proposal for Hoover Dam to its benefit?

Turbines inside Hoover Dam. (Pix via NYT)

OK, what’s in it is for us?

Today the Las Vegas Sun insert carried a six-day old New York Times story outlining a proposal by Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to use Hoover Dam and Colorado River water to smooth out its flow of electricity. The utility has so much intermittent solar and wind power that sometimes it must pay others to take it off its hands lest it overload the grid and result in blackouts.

The plan is to build a $3 billion system of pipes and pump stations that would use that excess power to pump water from downstream of the dam back into Lake Mead. When the utility needed power — when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow — water would be released through the dam’s turbines to generate power.

The Times article compared the scheme to using the dam as a sort of storage battery.

Of course, the scheme is rife with potential problems. How would it affect water availability downstream? What would be the environmental impact in general and specifically for the herds of bighorn sheep? How would it impact recreational uses, especially boating in Lake Mohave? What about the economics?

The concept is not new, though the scale of this proposition is rather audacious.

Back in 2011 a proposal was floated to build what is called a pumped storage project in Eldorado Valley south of Las Vegas.

Though it sounded vaguely like a perpetual motion machine, it was based on the principle of supply and demand. Like in the stock or currency market — buy low, sell high.

Eldorado Pumped Storage filed an application for permission to study the feasibility of building a closed-loop hydropower facility. The idea was to build a 10,000 acre-foot reservoir at an elevation of 3,570 feet and another at 1,500 feet. During the day, when power is expensive, the water would flow through turbines and the electricity could be sold on the grid. At night, when power is cheaper, the water would be pumped back to the top of the hill.

A similar plan was once proposed for the gypsum mining property across from Blue Diamond.

Nothing has been heard since about either proposal.

The technology has been around since the late 19th century and there are several working pumped storage facilities around the world.

As for the Hoover Dam proposal, what’s in it for Nevada, which would bear the brunt of the impact of disturbances?

Nevada gets only a quarter of the power generated by Hoover Dam, while Arizona gets less than 20 percent and the rest flows to California.

As for Lake Mead water, California gets 4.4 million acre-feet a year, Arizona 2.8 million acre-feet and Nevada a mere 300,000 acre-feet.

At the end of the lengthy Times report, Nevada state Sen. Joe Hardy of Boulder City is quoted as suggesting that Nevada would be willing to negotiate.

“The hurdles are minimal and the negotiations simple, as long as everybody agrees with Nevada,” Hardy told the newspaper. “It would be nice if there was a table that they would come to. I’ll provide the table.”

Perhaps a greater share of power or water could be wrested in such a negotiation.

New York Times video of Hoover Dam.

Newspaper column: Opposition to wind farm project expressed

As part of its review process to determine whether to approve an application to allow construction of wind turbines on 32,000 acres of public land in Nevada adjacent to the California border just west of Searchlight, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) conducted a series of scoping meetings to allow public input.

At a recent meeting in Las Vegas a half dozen speakers largely expressed support for renewable energy but not on the proposed site.

According to a 2012 filing with the Nevada Public Utilities Commission, Crescent Peak Renewables is proposing to erect 220 wind turbine towers standing more than 400 feet high and generating 500 megawatts of power. The proposed site is adjacent to the Mojave National Preserve and the Castle Mountain National Monument in California and the Wee Thump Joshua Tree Wilderness and the South McCullough Wilderness in Nevada. All of the land is in Nevada.

Wee Thump Joshua Tree Wilderness Area (Pix by Kurt Kuznicki)

Alan O’Neill, retired superintendent at Lake Mead National Recreation Area, testified there is a coalition of conservation organizations in California and Nevada that asked the BLM to hold off on issuing the notice of intent for the wind project until a supplemental resource management plan could be completed.

O’Neill also said the groups asked that the area be designated as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC).

“What we’d like the BLM to do, and I’m speaking on behalf of a number of conservation organizations, is for BLM to develop an alternative as part of this EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) process that has a ‘no wind’ alternative,   combined with establishing the Castle Mountains ACEC. We think that’s a solid alternative,” O’Neill said, noting there are 19 environmental conservation organizations plus four retired superintendents backing the proposal.

“It seems disingenuous to me that in the overall presentation you’re talking about an impact of 750 acres,” actual area cleared for pads and roads, O’Neill remarked. “It is surrounded by wilderness characteristics with basically no roads, except backcountry roads. Those roads are 10 feet wide, and you’re talking about building 93 miles of new roads 36 feet wide, in addition to 15 miles of road that they’re expanding to 36. The impacts of that are astounding. And you’re talking about a hole in the doughnut. You’re talking about this area surrounded by a protected landscape that many of us in this room have spent literally decades trying to get protected. You’re talking about putting in an industrial-sized development.”

Laura Cunningham, a member of the environmental group Basin and Range Watch, stated, “I would recommend going to this area, like the Castle Mountains in Nevada, and hiking, because I think what’s not being said here is how absolutely beautiful this place is. It is really pristine. There are hardly any roads there.”

Cunningham added, “So, this is a really wild, remote area, really biologically diverse. My group, Basin and Range Watch, we’re going to have a ‘bioblitz’ April 28th and 29th.”

Her group’s website explains that the bioblitz, which is defined as a biological survey in an attempt to record all the living species within a designated area, is part of an effort to persuade the BLM to designate roughly 38,000 acres of Nevada desert — which includes the proposed wind farm — as an ACEC.

“I was just hiking there a couple of weeks ago and it’s got a unique, rare Sonoran Desert grassland with Joshua trees and yuccas,” she said. “You get up on some of those low ridges, they don’t look like much on a map, but when you’re there it looks like you’re in East Africa or Namibia. You just don’t see anything — no transmission lines, maybe there’s one road way off in the distance, a dirt road.”

Jose Witt, who said he belongs to the Friends of Nevada Wilderness, said that, while there is a need to replace fossil fuel power generation with renewable energy, there also is a need to protect view sheds and wildlife habitat.

“If we put this type of development in the middle of all these protected lands, it ruins the integrity and conservation values of all this area. We fragment the habitat and essentially lose islands of protection, or become islands, because there is no continuity,” Witt said.

Shannon Salter said the Joshua trees in the area need to be protected. “Some of them are over 30 feet tall and they are approximately 900 years old. We need them protected. The name of their forest is the Wee Thump Joshua forest. That word Wee Thump is a Paiute Indian word, which means ancient one,” Slater said.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.


Judge hears arguments in suit over central Nevada water grab

If whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting, this fight is in its 28th round and the combatants are still flailing madly.

In 1989 the agency that is now the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) filed paperwork with the state engineer to lay claim to 589,000 acre-feet of groundwater in central Nevada — primarily White Pine, Lincoln and Nye counties — that would be tapped with a 300-mile, $1.5 billion pipeline from near Ely to Las Vegas. The litigation and hearings and debates began immediately. Since then the amount of water sought has been trimmed to 84,000 acre-feet while the price tag on the pipeline has grown to an estimated $15 billion.

Three years ago several counties and groups filed lawsuits in federal court seeking to block the water grab, claiming the federal land agencies had failed to properly evaluate the environmental damage and follow the law. The lawsuits claimed the Interior Department and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) violated the National Environmental Policy Act and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act in approving the groundwater project.

On Monday in a Las Vegas courtroom federal Judge Andrew Gordon heard nearly two hours of oral arguments from both sides seeking summary judgment.

“The proposed pumping would amount to a devastating groundwater mining project, under which the groundwater system would not even begin to approach equilibrium for thousands of years, with the potential of never reaching equilibrium,” the original suit by the counties claimed. “As the two Nevada State Court rulings … concluded, it is irrational, arbitrary, and capricious to restrict the consideration of impacts to as short a time period as 200 years when the uniform evidence confirms that the groundwater systems involved will be disturbed and subject to ever worsening drawdown for millennia.”

Judge Gordon noted that in the three years since then the two sides have have filed thousands of pages of briefs.

USGS employee at well near the southern Snake Range, Nev.

Attorney Simeon Herskovits, representing the counties, the Great Basin Water Network and other parties, argued that the federal agencies had failed to consider the impact of the whole project on the environment and the aquifer, but had taken a tiered approach, looking at the impact of each well as it comes online. He noted the objective is for the recharge of the aquifer to equal the draw down by the SNWA wells, but that is not possible.

Throughout the hearing the judge peppered both sides with questions, seeking clarification of their arguments.

Herskovits argued that the wells would drop the water table to the point that wetlands and springs would dry up and affect several endangered species that depend on them.

At times the arguments seemed to parallel those that have already taken place in state court: Is it even possible to predict the wells’ effects and mitigate those effects at some future point.

In 2013 Senior Judge Robert Estes ruled that State Engineer Jason King had the authority to approve the transfer of water from Spring, Cave, Dry Lake and Delarmar valleys to Las Vegas, but had failed to establish objective criteria for just when mitigation — such as halting pumping — would have to be initiated.

In his ruling Judge Estes repeatedly called the plans for monitoring, mitigating and managing (MMM) flawed and the water transfer plan “arbitrary and capricious.”

“There are no objective standards to determine when mitigation will be required and implemented,” the judge wrote. “The Engineer has listed what mitigation efforts can possibly be made, i.e., stop pumping, modifying pumping, change location of pumps, drill new wells … but does not cite objective standards of when mitigation is necessary.”

Judge Estes listed, as an example of objective standards, the plan in place for mitigation at Devil’s Hole in Armagosa Valley, home of an endangered minnow. He said mitigation is triggered when the water level falls 2.7 feet below a copper washer. “This is an objective and recognizable standard.”

But on Monday an attorney representing the BLM, Luther Hajek, noted the job of the BLM is to issue the permit for the pipeline across public lands, while it is up to the state engineer to decide if the water is there.

Judge Gordon questioned the attorney about the BLM’s duty to assess potential degradation, and asked whether the BLM had buried that question in paperwork without really analyzing.

An attorney for the various Indian tribes opposing the water grab, Rovianne Leigh, noted that tribal leaders are trying to pass along long-standing ceremonies to the next generation, but if the water that is central to those ceremonies is gone, so are the ceremonies.

Previously, it was noted that Goshute tribal elders maintain that at the Swamp Cedars Massacre Site — where in 1863 more than 300 Indian men, women, and children were killed by the U.S. Calvary — a swamp cedar tree grew where each one of the Indians fell, and the tribe fears a water table decline would harm the trees.

The tribes’ attorney quoted Ben Frankin, who once said, “When the well is dry we know the value of water.”

Leigh also noted a recent 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that found the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians had a right to groundwater that was being drawn down by various water agencies. The appellate court said the tribe “has a reserved right to groundwater underlying its reservation as a result of the purpose for which the reservation was established.”

SNWA’s attorney, Hadassah Reimer, argued that the plaintiffs were second guessing Southern Nevada officials who had determined a need to diversify Clark County’s water portfolio, because it draws 90 percent of its water from dwindling Lake Mead. She added that the plaintiffs argue conservation is the answer, but that the district has already cut water usage by nearly 40 percent in recent years.

Reimer also noted it is difficult to assess the impact of the entire project since future well sites have yet to be determined and no start date has been established.

The state engineer has scheduled hearings for the end of September on the court-ordered review of mitigation standards. Gordon said he will rule on the motions for summary judgment before then.

To buoy the plaintiffs’ arguments, a 2014 study by the U.S. Geological Survey found that proposed increases in water withdrawals in and near Snake Valley by the SNWA would likely result in declining groundwater levels and a decrease in natural discharge to springs and streams.

“Because of the magnitude of the proposed development project and the interconnected nature of groundwater basins in the region, there have been concerns that new pumping will disrupt Snake Valley’s groundwater supplies and threaten the wetlands and ranches that rely upon them,” said Melissa Masbruch, USGS scientist and lead author of the new report. “This study can help assess the effects of future groundwater withdrawals on groundwater resources in the Snake Valley area.”

Masbruch added, “This new model represents a more robust quantification of groundwater availability than previous studies because the model integrates all components of the groundwater budget.”

The study calculated all the groundwater recharge for Snake Valley from various sources, including precipitation, unconsumed irrigation and inflow from other aquifers and found that the valley groundwater receives about 175,000 acre-feet. But when all of the outflow is added up — current wells, springs, streams and outflow to other aquifers— it is almost precisely the same amount of water — equilibrium.

This prompted the authors of the study to warn, “Increased well withdrawals within these high transmissivity areas will likely affect a large part of the study area, resulting in declining groundwater levels, as well as leading to a decrease in natural discharge to springs …”

Whatever the judge rules, the reality of the cost to Clark County water customers may also be a factor. A study for the water authority by Hobbs, Ong & Associates of Las Vegas found the cost to drill wells and build pipelines and pumps to send the groundwater to Las Vegas would be $15 billion or, in some years, $2,000 an acre-foot — while farmers in California and Arizona can buy Colorado River water for $20 an acre-foot. The study said Las Vegas water rates would have to triple to pay for the project.

The white ring shows how much Lake Mead’s water level has fallen in recent years. (NY Times pix)





Another example of the federal war against private land owners in the West

Road to Anniversary Mine. (Photo by Laura and Sasha)

It is becoming abundantly clear that the public “servants” assigned to manage federal public lands in the West don’t want any stinking private land ownership anywhere near their vast, wide-open nature communes.

Add to the cases involving the Hammond family ranchers in Oregon in which a father and son face five years in prison under an antiterrorism law for letting fires accidentally spread to 140 acres of public land causing less than $1,000 in damages  and the Hage family ranchers who have been denied grazing and water rights and even the Bundy ranch near Bunkerville where grazing rights were curtailed to protect tortoises though no damage to tortoises was ever shown and the ranchers of the Battle Mountain area who were denied grazing rights though the lack of grazing increased the likelihood of wildfire and the Texas rancher whose land is claimed by the BLM because they discovered it is next to the Red River, add to these the case of a mine owner criminally charged and facing 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for grading the dirt road leading to his privately held mine inside the Lake Mead National Recreation Area and causing $1,540 in damages to public dirt.

As reported today by the Las Vegas newspaper, the owner of the 215-acre Anniversary Mine and an employee were charged on Nov. 24 for “unauthorized” road work performed in March that “willfully” injured government property. The mine existed before the lake was built.

The key word is unauthorized. You see mine owner Robert Earl Ford tried to get permission to improve, even pave, the 2.5-mile road, two-thirds of which is on federal land, after his insurance company threatened to cancel his liability insurance because of the danger the road poses to tourists who use it to access the popular Anniversary Narrows. The feds denied his requests, because that’s what feds do.

If Ford can’t safely access his land to mine limestone, the federal government has effectively taken his land under the Fifth Amendment. That’s what feds do — overreact, overcharge and lord over.

Anniversary Narrows (R-J photo)



Newspaper column: Let water seek its price level in free market

The West has been parched by drought for 15 years. Lake Mead stands at 39 percent of its capacity. Thousands of acres of agricultural land lie fallow. Fruit and nut trees are dying. Cities are banning lawn watering.

The dwindling waters of the Colorado River Basin alone currently bathe and slake the thirst of more than 40 million people and irrigate 4 million acres of agriculture in an area that accounts for more than a quarter of the United States’ gross domestic product. Groundwater tables across the region are being drawn down to such a degree that it will take millennia to recover.

The powers that be are tossing out various ideas to increase supply and/or decrease demand for that increasingly scarce water, as recounted in this week’s newspaper column, available online at The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News and the Elko Daily Free Press.

But some thinkers at the Brookings Institution think-tank have thought of something so old that it is new.

Lake Mead at 39 percent capacity.

Currently water in the West is allocated on a first-in-use, first-in-rights basis. Stop the use and the rights stop, too. A water right is not a property right that can be bought, sold or bartered.

But the authors of “Shopping for Water: How the Market Can Mitigate Water Shortages in the American West” suggest water bought and sold in an open market would find its level, so to speak, balancing the supply with demand through pricing.

It is a concept spelled out by Adam Smith in “The Wealth of Nations” in 1776 as “an invisible hand” and advocated by free-market economists ever since, though the reasoning has largely fallen on the deaf ears of the central planners who think they know best and free markets are somehow unfair to the poor — a fallacy Smith long ago debunked.

Many wags have observed over the years that “nobody washes a rented car,” meaning that ownership of a thing results in better care being taken of it.

“As impressive as our water infrastructure may be, over the decades, water management in the West has also created perverse economic and legal incentives that have led to the overdraft of critical groundwater reserves and depleted reservoirs, and that have promoted the overallocation of Western rivers and streams,” write the Brookings authors.

Central Valley of California sign.

The communal ownership of water offers little incentive to invest in equipment or technology that might conserve water for profitable sale to another user.

“Market pricing for water can encourage conservation and wise use of water in our cities and industry,” the study suggests. “Farmers who have an opportunity to sell or lease a portion of their water have an incentive to conserve, invest in more efficient irrigation systems, and/or adjust existing cropping patterns in order to free up water for trade.”

For example, California and Nevada farmers are growing water thirsty alfalfa for export to Japan, China and the Middle East. That is tantamount to exporting water overseas during a prolonged drought that has no end in sight.

One of the study’s three authors, University of Arizona professor Robert Glennon, calculated the irrational rationing and pricing of water across three different current uses.

It takes about 135,000 gallons of water to produce a ton of alfalfa, which would sell for about $340. The same volume of water could produce approximately 11,000 pounds of lettuce in Yuma and sell for $2,000. Meanwhile, the Intel Corporation uses about 10 gallons of water to produce a microprocessor. “In other words, an acre-foot of water used to grow alfalfa generates approximately $920; if used to grow lettuce in Yuma, it would generate approximately $6,000; if used by Intel, it would generate $13 million.”

If water were traded on the open market, it could flow to the highest and best uses. It would become practical to enhance the treatment of sewage to near potable levels and to build desalinization plants along the ocean, allowing inland communities to trade for river water by paying for the power to operate downstream water purification systems.

This is nothing new. Former UNLV professor of economics Murray Rothbard wrote in 1995 in “Making Economic Sense”:

“All it (government) has to do is clear the market, and let people conserve each in his own way and at his own pace.

“In the longer run, what the government should do is privatize the water supply, and let water be supplied, like oil or Pepsi-Cola, by private firms trying to make a profit and to satisfy and court consumers, and not to gain power by making them suffer.”

When will we ever learn?

Just say no to the rural groundwater grab, once and for all

The Las Vegas newspaper today editorially points out the city’s primary water source is drying up. That’s obvious from the white bath tub ring around Lake Mead.

As to the answer to the problem, the editorialists suggest tapping groundwater from rural Nevada — a proposition that would be harmful for both the rural area and the urbanites.

Saying “make no mistake” twice, the editorial concludes:

The truth is that, historically, droughts along the Colorado River are normal and can last decades. As such, the continuing decline of Lake Mead is a reminder to develop whatever additional water resources we can. Reducing the standard of living in this region is not a solution.

Make no mistake, no one wants to build the rural groundwater pipeline. Indeed, several lawsuits aim to prevent it, and the cost of the project would be massive — many billions of dollars, including service on construction debt. But make no mistake, the water authority must be prepared to forge ahead if river conditions continue to deteriorate.

That would be a mistake.

According to the state engineer, who is water rights arbiter in Nevada, the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s plan to draw 84,000 acre-feet of groundwater would affect the water table outside the valleys that would be tapped. Groundwater in Cave, Dry Lake and Delamar valleys are linked to the White River Flow System and drawing down the water table in those valleys could affect water resources as far away as Pahranagat Valley, Lake Valley, Muddy River Springs Valley, Lower Moapa Valley, and Coyote Spring Valley.

Lake Mead’s bath tub ring

One state lawsuit opposing the pipeline project contends, “The proposed pumping would amount to a devastating groundwater mining project, under which the groundwater system would not even begin to approach equilibrium for thousands of years, with the potential of never reaching equilibrium.”

That would deter rural development efforts.

As for urban Clark County, the bottom line is that it’s still too darned expensive.

The infrastructure cost is still $7.3 billion, according to a study by Hobbs, Ong & Associates of Las Vegas and Public Financial Management of Seattle. (The study: SNWA_Exh_383_Hobbs and Bonow Report) The cost per acre-foot just for the capital expense alone is well north of $2,000 per acre-foot. That’s while Colorado River water is being sold to farmers in California and Arizona for well less than $20 per acre-foot.

As the SNWA’s own study admits, water rates in Las Vegas would at least triple if the groundwater is tapped and piped south. That would deter development in Clark County.

The first that should be done is to fill Lake Mead with Lake Powell water.

Research for the Glen Canyon Institute by hydrologist Dr. Thomas Myers found that 260,000 to 390,000 acre-feet of water seeps into the banks of Lake Powell annually, which the Bureau of Reclamation, the manager of the river, fails to take into account.

That is Nevada’s annual allotment of Colorado River water.

But the real solution lies in changing water from a socialized commodity to one openly bought and sold in a free market.

Allow the municipalities, industries, farmers and ranchers with existing water rights to buy, sell and trade in an open market. Why would a farmer continue to grow rice or cotton with his $20 an acre-foot water, when he can sell it to the water authority in Las Vegas for, say, $200? Instead of allowing that allotment to flow through the dams and canals to Yuma, Las Vegas could take that share from Lake Mead.

No need for a water grab. Problem solved.


Newspaper column: ‘Fill Mead First’ and save water

The Glen Canyon Institute describes itself as dedicated to the restoration of Glen Canyon and the Colorado River to their natural states prior to the construction of Glen Canyon Dam and the filling of Lake Powell.

While the institute’s primary focus is on Arizona and Utah, one of its ideas for changes would have significant impact on Nevada, where the Las Vegas water agencies continue to press for access to groundwater from four valleys in rural Nevada, as recounted in this week’s newspaper column, available online at The Ely Times and the Elko Daily Free Press.

The institute has an acronym for it: FMF, which stands for Fill Mead First.

Lake Mead’s bathtub ring.

Their objective is to lower Lake Powell, thereby uncovering natural and cultural sites. This also would speed up the flow of the Colorado River and restore the ecology of the Grand Canyon. The 710-foot dam changes that ecology by stopping the river’s warm, silt-laden flow, instead releasing a colder, clearer flow.

But the ancillary benefit is that it could add as much as 300,000 acre-feet of water — which is equal to Nevada’s entire annual allotment from the Colorado River — to Lake Mead by cutting the water lost in Lake Powell due to evaporation and seepage into the banks of the lake.

The Glen Canyon Institute bases this on research by hydrologist Dr. Thomas Myers, who found that 260,000 to 390,000 acre-feet of water seeps into the banks of Lake Powell annually, which the Bureau of Reclamation, the manager of the river, fails to take into account.

While the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s plan is to spend $15 billion to obtain 84,000 acre-feet of rural groundwater, the cost of filling Mead first is nil. The plan requires no new facilities to be built, and no changes in the laws or compacts regulating the river, just a change in bureaucratic policy.

A year ago the Bureau of Reclamation reported that by 2060 the demand for Colorado River water will exceed supply by 3.2 million acre-feet. One reason is that the river currently supplies water to 40 million people from Denver to San Diego, but that population is estimated to nearly double to 76.5 million by 2060.

The proposal to Fill Mead First is cheap, easily accomplished and entirely reversible if circumstances change.

Read the entire column at Ely of Elko sites.

You’ll just have to drink less, even if you are willing to pay more

Hoover Dam and the ‘bathtub ring’ (NY Times photo)

Water is in the news, especially its scarcity.

Recently The New York Times published a 1,500-word article on this topic, datelined Lake Mead, Nev.

Never mind the credibility of the author, Michael Wines, was blown to hell by his second paragraph in which he says of the Colorado River: “The once broad and blue river has in many places dwindled to a murky brown trickle,” though everyone in the West knows that pioneers used to say of the silt-laden river: “too thick to drink and too thin to plow.” Never broad nor blue.

The article meanders through a series of factoids about drought, attempts to tap lower into Lake Mead for Las Vegas water, conservation, the historic pact that divvied up the river water, recycling and much more.

The article quotes John Entsminger, newly appointed head of the Las Vegas Valley Water District and likely heir to head the Southern Nevada Water Authority, as saying, “The era of big water transfers is either over, or it’s rapidly coming to an end. It sure looks like in the 21st century, we’re all going to have to use less water.”

The Wall Street Journal has a column talking about the shortage of water from one end of California to the other and how it is affecting homeowners, farmers and ranchers.

Jane Ann Morrison had a Review-Journal column about Entsminger’s qualifications to head up the water agencies. She too quoted Entsminger on the likelihood of Las Vegas having to get by with less. “The next chapter is not a discussion of how can we get more water, but how can we all co-exist with less.”

Everyone is wearing blinders. It is all about government allocating existing water supplies, building huge infrastructure, conservation and recycling sewage effluent.

No one but no ever suggests the one and only means of fairly allocating water to willing users: the free market.

I’ve quoted columnist and economist Thomas Sowell on this a couple of times before, but it bears repeating:

“There is no need for government officials to decide arbitrarily – and categorically – whether it is a good thing or a bad thing for particular crops to be grown in California with water artificially supplied below cost from federal irrigation projects. Such questions can be decided incrementally, by those directly confronting the alternatives, through price competition in a free market.”

No bureaucrat who wants to keep his job would ever suggest such a wild and crazy thing.