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Water authority board approves pump station, rate hike

Citing the need to protect the community’s water supply from uncertainty on the Colorado River, Southern Nevada Water Authority board members voted Wednesday to build a new $650 million pump station at Lake Mead and raise rates to pay for it.

The new pump station would allow the authority to continue drawing water under what general manager John Entsminger called “all reservoir conditions,” even the most dire. Without it, the community would lose the ability to tap its primary source of water should the reservoir shrink another 85 feet to below the level of the authority’s two existing pump stations.

The valley’s wholesale water agency plans to finance the project and pay down the debt with an increase in the fixed charges paid by water customers.

The new monthly fee is being called a “drought protection charge,” and Entsminger said a portion of it is likely to begin appearing on bills in October or November.

It will be phased in over three years, topping out in 2018 with an increase of almost $5 per month for most residential customers. Commercial customers and others with larger service lines would pay substantially more in dollars, though they would see roughly the same increase by percentage.

This marks the water authority’s third rate increase in three years and its eighth in the past decade.

The pump station and rate increase were among a slate of recommendations submitted to the Integrated Resource Planning Advisory Committee, a 21-member panel of community representatives hand-picked by the water authority in 2012 to review the agency’s revenue structure and future water resources.

The committee’s other recommendations included:

  • Sustaining efforts to conserve water in the community;
  • Cooperating with other water agencies and states in the region to boost the Colorado River;
  • Continue to pursue a controversial, multi-billion-dollar pipeline to tap groundwater in rural eastern Nevada as part of the authority’s long-range resource plan.

In its final report, completed late last month, the advisory committee called on the authority to move ahead with the new pump station at Lake Mead “within the swiftest feasible time frame.”

During Wednesday’s discussion, committee member and Nevada Resort Association president Virginia Valentine told the authority board that no one likes to see rates go up, “but you really don’t have much of a choice.”

Board member and Boulder City Councilman Duncan McCoy agreed.

“We don’t have the option to gamble with … the commodity that allows us to live here or even (with) what it costs,” he said. “I don’t want to be here if we have no water. We must do this.”

The rate increase will need to be ratified in coming weeks by the authority’s member agencies, including the Las Vegas Vegas Valley Water District and the cities of Las Vegas, Henderson, North Las Vegas and Boulder City.

Before that happens, Entsminger said, the authority will launch ads and hold public workshops to explain the increase. Public hearings will be held before the member agencies take their votes.

Entsminger expects the new pump station to take about a year to design and four years to build. It will be linked to the new third intake tunnel now nearing completion at Lake Mead, allowing for water to flow to the Las Vegas Valley even if the lake shrinks to “dead pool,” a point at which the surface is so low Hoover Dam can no longer release water downstream.

Lake Mead has lost about 130 vertical feet of water since 2000 as a result of record drought on the over-appropriated Colorado River.

Entsminger said the new pump station is needed even if the Las Vegas Valley never adds another new resident. It will protect the water supply of everyone who lives here now, and that’s why everyone is being asked to help pay for it.

“This is a project of security,” Entsminger said. “This is not a project to bring us more capacity for more growth.”

Contact Henry Brean at hbrean@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0350. Follow @RefriedBrean on Twitter.