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Western states’ governors tackle drought at forum

INCLINE VILLAGE — Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval welcomed water experts and managers from around the West on Tuesday to scenic Lake Tahoe, where they reviewed a final report on dealing with drought and meeting the myriad challenges that come with competing demands for a dwindling resource.

The drought forum preceded a three-day annual meeting of the Western Governors’ Association held this week. Sandoval has served as chairman of the organization for the past year, and in that role initiated an in-depth look at drought plaguing much of the West and how states and communities can best prepare for drought and emerge from it.

“There’s a lot of opportunity there to save water,” he said.

Having the power to make it rain or snow being out of the question, Sandoval said the next best thing is identifying best practices on how to deal with it.

From devastating fires like one burning 30 miles south of Lake Tahoe to fallow fields in the heart of California’s farm country and lost recreation opportunities that bring tourist dollars, the four-year drought is having serious consequences.

But experts Tuesday reminded participants that drought is not new. The infamous Dust Bowl in the last century lasted 20 years, and historical evidence points to droughts lasting a century or more.

What is different is the urbanization of the West, a growing population and increased competition for a scarce resource.

The 22-page report outlines seven areas critical to modern-day drought management, from better data on snowpack and soil moisture to expanding uses of recycled water, conservation and changing public behavior.

Leo Drozdoff, director of the Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, said the Western Governors’ Association report is a first step and gives states recommendations on how to develop priorities.

“A lot of the recommendations tee up the next round of recommendations,” said Drozdoff, who served on the governors’ association drought forum. “I do think what we want to do now is drill a little deeper.”

Sandoval in April announced formation of a Nevada Drought Forum, which will build upon the report released Tuesday to devise best practices for water management in the Silver State. Historical data show droughts lasting decades.

That state report is expected later this year.

In California, where Gov. Jerry Brown ordered a 25 percent cut in water use, the reductions have pitted residents against businesses, industry against industry and led to public shaming of perceived water wasters.

“The public has not across this state fully accepted the breadth of the situation and what it means,” said John Laird, California’s secretary of natural resources.

And they can pray for a change in weather patterns to bring snow and rain during the winter. Evidence suggests a wet winter could be developing in the Pacific Ocean.

Robert Webb, director of the physical sciences division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said temperature readings in the Pacific show the presence of an El Niño, a warming of the ocean waters often associated with wet winters. But exactly where the storms may track or how much precipitation they may bring is still a guess at this point.

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