Proposals by urban areas to use groundwater from rural areas are creating controversy in some Western states, the head of the U.S. Interior Department says.
Interior Secretary Manuel Lujan Jr. said the issue is being debated in Nevada, Arizona and Colorado, with rural and urban interests jockeying for a dwindling supply of water resources.The comments came at the annual meeting of the Colorado River Water Users Association here Thursday.
Lujan said he would be "a Solomon" if he could resolve the controversy, referring to the king of Israel who was known for his wisdom.
"The rural areas are not very easily going to give up their water," Lujan told some 600 association members. "Yet they (rural and urban areas) maybe can find some common ground."
Lujan said the state of Nevada would have to approve a controversial water plan before the federal government evaluates the issue.
Clark County wants to obtain unallocated groundwater from aquifers in rural Nye, White Pine and Lincoln counties to meet the increasing needs of the Las Vegas Valley. Officials in the three counties are fighting the move.
Lujan said the federal government tries not to get involved in such battles until the state makes its decision.
"The states have the primary responsibility for determining basic water rights and entitlement on the basis of beneficial use, water quantity and other regional considerations," Lugan told the delegates.
Several federal agencies have filed protests to the Clark County proposal, despite Lujan's statement that the federal government does not get involved until the state decides.
State hearings on the Clark County request are expected to begin next year.
Pat Mulroy, general manager of the Las Vegas Valley Water District, says even if Clark County conserves water by 20 to 25 percent, not enough water will be available to support development already on the drawing board.
The Las Vegas water district is highly unlikely to receive a larger share of water from the Colorado River, which currently supplies 80 percent of Southern Nevada's water, Mulroy said.