From North to South, Nevada Drought Deepens

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A Las Vegas shopping center is trucking in water from as far away as Canada to fill its fountains. Reno will have to dip into its drought reserve supply for the first time in a decade. The most popular public ramp on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe is closed because there's not enough water to float a boat.

Nevada is not only the fastest growing state in the nation, it's also one of the driest. And it keeps getting drier.

"There is no question that the state, from Lake Tahoe in northern Nevada to Lake Mead in southern Nevada is in the midst of a difficult drought," Gov. Kenny Guinn has said.

The U.S. Farm Services Agency in Nevada meets on Monday to decide whether to recommend a disaster area declaration to the governor and federal Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman. All 17 counties received the designation last year.

While isolated showers on Saturday dumped up to 2 inches of rain in the Pine Nut Mountains east of Carson City and Minden and flooded Interstate-80 at the Tracy Clark exit 18 miles east of Reno, Reno itself has received only 0.24 inches of rain this month and hasn't seen a decent rainfall since June 9. Only a trace fell last month and it got a splash on Sunday.

Las Vegas has received 0.2 inches of rain this month, almost half of that in a storm Aug. 1 that tied a rainfall record for the date of 0.09 inches.

"The region will need to wait until next winter and spring for any significant improvements to the water supply situation," the state Natural Conservation Service said in this month's statement.

"As during the past four years, the region will need to get by on minimal amounts of water this summer."

Nevada's last drought ended in 1994 after dragging on for seven years.

Reno averages 7.48 inches of precipitation a year, Las Vegas, 4.49 inches. Through Saturday, Reno had received 4.53 inches since Jan. 1 and Las Vegas, 2.87 inches.

Along with parched lawns and fields, the conservation service said five dry winters have taken a toll on reservoir storage.

Tahoe is expected to drop below its natural rim next month, cutting off its flow of water into the Truckee River. The Truckee Meadows Water Authority then will begin tapping other upstream reservoirs and its underground wells.

In the south, Lake Mead is expected to drop below 1,125 feet above sea level by year's end, its lowest point in 39 years. That would prompt the Southern Nevada Water Authority to declare a drought emergency because no surplus water is available from the Colorado River, which provides the Las Vegas area with about 90 percent of its supply.

"Reservoir storage is much below average throughout most of the region," the conservation service said.

Lake Tahoe, which held 136 percent of its annual storage in 1999, now stands at 24 percent. Upstream storage alternatives to Tahoe for the Reno area's water needs are somewhat better at 82 percent of average for July 31 compared with 145 percent six years ago.

Storage on the Lower Colorado, including Lake Mead, is at 67 percent of average, down from 120 percent in 1999.

"Reservoir storage in Nevada and eastern California will continue to decline through the summer months due to large water demands, high temperatures, high evaporation and little inflow," the conservation service said.

This week's U.S. drought monitor issued by the University of Nebraska shows a wide swath of extreme drought sweeping across about half of Nevada from just north of Las Vegas and south of Ely across to Lake Tahoe and north through Washoe, Churchill, Pershing and Humboldt counties to the Oregon line.

Extreme drought is second only to exceptional drought on the 5-step scale.

"The long range outlook for the months of August through October shows precipitation will likely be below normal through the period throughout the region, especially in the north. Temperatures will continue above normal, especially in the south."


On the Net: Natural Resources Conservation Service:

National Weather Service, Reno: