Deal would let southern California buy surplus water from Nevada

Lake Mead’s Boulder Basin in July 2008. (Andrew Cattoir photo courtesy NPS via Flickr)

Reuters — A US$45 million deal that would let southern California’s biggest water agency access a major supply of water that would normally go to southern Nevada won approval on Thursday from the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

The board of the Metropolitan Water District, a wholesaler that supplies public utilities in heavily populated southern California, will vote on the deal next week, a spokesman said.

Under the arrangement, the southern California agency would be able to use 150,000 acre-feet of surplus water this year if needed, while allowing Nevada to buy it back in future years, the Southern Nevada Water Authority said in a statement on its website.

The deal is one of more than a dozen agreements worked out by the Los Angeles-based Metropolitan Water District, which operates its own pumps at Lake Mead, a huge reservoir on the Colorado River behind Hoover Dam located between Nevada and Arizona.

The Nevada statement said the agency has conducted similar water swaps with Southern California for about a decade. But this deal, struck in part to ensure supplies for Southern California at a time when drought has depleted the state’s reservoirs, involves twice the typical amount of water usually shared, the Southern Nevada Water Authority said.

Such arrangements are called water-banking, because the agency selling the water is in effect storing it elsewhere until needed, lessening the risk that it will evaporate and generating cash and goodwill in the meantime.

If approved by the southern California agency, the deal would allow the Nevada agency to ensure its own supplies in years to come by selling water, some of which would otherwise evaporate, that it does not currently need from Lake Mead.

Earlier this year, the lake, the largest capacity reservoir in the United States, was on track to drop to its lowest level in its 79-year history.

But wet spring weather brought what water managers called “Miracle May,” granting an immediate reprieve from impending cutbacks in the amount of water for sale to agencies in Southern California and elsewhere in the west.

Unless rains continue, however, the lake could again hit dangerously low levels in 2017, the Nevada water agency said.

Reporting for Reuters by Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento.

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