Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval kicks off drought forum seeking recommendations by 2016

Gov. Brian Sandoval on Monday urged stakeholders, experts and public officials filling the Assembly chambers to keep their minds open and consider a broad range of ideas to help Nevada through the drought.

He said the state needs “to see what the long-term solutions are” because even if El Niño gives Nevada a good winter, the state can move forward with legal, economic and environmental changes because, he said, the drought isn’t going away.

“Even if we have a big winter, that’s not going to do it all,” he said. “Nevada is in a drought all the time.”

The three-day Drought Summit opened Monday morning with not only scientists but farmers and ranchers, environmentalists and public policy makers in attendance.

Sandoval said those attending should talk about the history of water in Nevada, the law and the use of water.

He called on them to debate “and it’s OK to disagree, but to debate a broad range of choices.”

Compared to most states, he said Nevada is already ahead of the game.

“We’re the best in the nation and maybe the world in water conservation and drought management,” Sandoval said.

But, he said, he wants solid recommendations to implement by year’s end.

“We need concrete proposals for future action,” he said.

His introduction was followed by a panel of three scientists who told the audience all indications are that El Niño will return in force this winter, potentially bringing a lot more moisture to Nevada than in any year since 1997-98.

But Roger Pulwarty, director of the National Integrated Drought Information System operated by NOAA, warned that, “all El Niños do not produce wet conditions.”

He said Southern Nevada has a better change of a heavy wet winter than the north but that a strong El Niño does produce wetter conditions in the Sierra.

Nevada State Climatologist Doug Boyle said one of the problems in making long-term predictions is that there are very few actual observation stations in Nevada — about 20 compared to more than 120 in California. So, he said, the state has very little information to compare what computer programs and satellite tracking says with what’s happening on the ground.

Despite all the computer advances, Boyle said forecasters still aren’t comfortable predicting the weather more than seven days out.

“We really don’t know eight days out so how are we going to know three months out,” he asked.

Pulwarty, Boyle and Justin Huntington of the Desert Research Institute all emphasized that defining drought and determining its causes is complicated.

Huntington said more on the ground monitoring stations are badly needed in the upper elevations and in agricultural areas. In the agricultural areas, he said monitoring is needed “to see how much water is getting used.”

Huntington said more and more data is available but that many times people don’t know it exists and, if they do, don’t know how to use the information.

The summit continues until Wednesday.


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