The Nevada Independent

“There’s no telling what we’ll find in Lake Mead,” former Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman told the Associated Press earlier this month. Goodman, the storied mob attorney turned mayor, was talking about the bodies discovered at Lake Mead as water levels have declined.

But Lake Mead’s historic decline has revealed more uncomfortable realities than just this one. If the lake was already a symbol for the West’s water issues, now it is even more stark.

And suddenly, a lot of people are talking about water.

This week’s newsletter looks at common questions readers have about water and provides context about where our water comes from in Nevada — and the solutions moving forward.

1. What about our neighbors to the West? Is California using all our water? Are we selling our water to California? Not exactly. With the exception of the Humboldt River, most of the surface water in Nevada — that is, the water that flows down rivers and streams — originates as snow elsewhere.

In the case of Western Nevada, much of the water that irrigates farms in Yerington or supplies drinking water to Reno, actually originates in California. The Walker River and the Truckee River, respectively, run off the mountains on the other side of the state line. In the case of Las Vegas, which gets its water from the Colorado River, the story is well known: Tributaries snake their way across the Southwest, but most of the precipitation that makes the river run falls in the Rockies. Water use on these rivers was divided up, often overallocated, a long time ago.

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