Another perspective: Our water: The basic issues

-A A +A

Go into our “low price” Walmart and look at the cost of water — trucked in over long distances and hopefully of drinking water quality. Depending upon the label prettiness and package size, you will see the prices ranging from $1.10 to $6.90 per gallon.

Surely, Las Vegans can do better than that. What about city water?  Let us drag you though some details.

Where does city water come from? About 10 percent is piped from groundwater aquifers a few miles south of the city, and the remaining 90 percent comes from our local Gallinas River.

The river water is diverted to reservoirs (Peterson, Bradner and Storrie). As needed, it is drawn and run through the fresh water treatment plant near Montezuma. The treated river water is blended with well water and goes through a network of distribution pipes for use in residences, businesses and institutions. About 70 percent of that water then goes through a network of sewage pipes to the wastewater treatment plant near Interstate 25, Exit 343, where pollutants are removed. The treated effluent is then returned to the river, except for a little that is piped back for irrigating parks and sports fields.

So why worry? Each part of the system is limited — by existing physical facilities, by aquifer content, by legal permissions, or by Mother Nature’s capricious deliveries of river water. And Las Vegas’ demand for water is steadily growing.

Further, just about every part of the system suffers from deferred maintenance.

Estimated overall losses are around 45 percent. The overall result is that we have a system that needs more water, wastes water, and risks water outage failures.

Questions abound. Fundamentally, there are two issues. Having enough water of decent quality throughout each year to meet growing demand, and having sufficient backup in case of the adverse events that are sure to occur — drought, watershed fire, equipment failure, etc. Each of the following questions deserves at least several paragraphs of discussion. For today, let’s just name them:

• Can we buy permission to divert more river water?

• How should we live through potential severe drought?

• Can the aquifer endure our pumping? Ongoing? Emergency?

• What about the 1911 Peterson Dam? Leaks? Structural integrity?

• Is there enough usable reservoir storage? Possible remedies?

• Can we treat enough fresh water? Expansion needed?

• How much water evaporates from reservoirs?

• What will it take to fix the leaky pipes?

• How far can demand be reduced? And how?

• Can we make better use of our treated wastewater? Irrigation?

• What will it cost to fix the system right?  $100 million?

Answers and solutions. To select the best approach(es) and obtain/assign funds, your city administration has contracted for a thorough engineering study to address these and other water issues. The city wants public input on the study’s preliminary results and project selections. Details will be on the city’s website. A presentation and dialogue session will be held at City Council chambers, on March 24. The final study results are due in July 2011.

There’s no free lunch. As you know, we all pay the costs to deliver safe water reliably — through water rates, property and sales taxes, and federal taxes. And a part of those costs are the fixes for real problems like those noted above — which can be expensive.

That brings us back to the Walmart visit — water at $1.10 to $6.90 per gallon. The city water is currently priced at about six-tenths of a cent per gallon — cheap at several times the price, and with home delivery, tested several times a day for quality.

After engineering studies and the public meetings, the city will need to decide how, through engineering improvements and water rate structures, to keep delivery of our water both safe and reliable.  We need those water rates to be fair and equitable — and sufficient to cover costs.      

Bob Wessely is vice president of the Las Vegas Community Water Board. He may be reached at wessely@sciso.com.