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Mountain West states getting millions in federal funds for drought resilience

A wide shot of Lake Mead and the surrounding mountains. The sky is blue and clouds are hanging at the mountain peaks.
Mark Gunn
Flickr Creative Commons
The municipal sewer system in the Las Vegas Valley recycles water back into Lake Mead, pictured here, which is fed by the drought-stricken Colorado River.

The Interior Department is spending nearly $85 million to help communities in the West tackle challenges brought on by drought, and many of the projects are in the Mountain West.

In Nevada, more than $1.7 million will pay for Las Vegas Valley homeowners using septic tanks to convert to the municipal sewer system. This recycles water back into Lake Mead, which is fed by the drought-stricken Colorado River, said Doa Ross, deputy general manager of engineering for the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

“We have a big incentive if we can capture any water to the sewer system – that means we're extending that resource,” Ross said. “Everybody receiving Colorado River water who is on a septic system, that water is delivered and never returned. It is lost for good to this community.”

Ross said there are about 14,500 septic system users in the Las Vegas Valley. Converting them, she added, could save up to 5 billion gallons of water a year.

“Every opportunity we can to conserve recycle, reuse…we just can't afford to let wastewater be water wasted in this community,” she said.

In Colorado, $5 million will be used to build a collector well in Aurora. On the state’s Western Slope, Deutsch Domestic Water Company is getting $585,000 for storage and efficiency improvements.

In New Mexico, $5 million will go toward a groundwater well in Gallup. Another $1.5 million will help pay for new tools and strategies in regions with acequia water distribution systems, which are gravity-fed earthen canals that divert stream flow for distribution to fields.

Enterprize Canal Company, based in southeastern Idaho, is getting $5 million to help fund an aquifer recharge site. Falls Irrigation District, also in the southeastern part of the state, will use $415,606 to add wells to its Snake River Plain aquifer.

Utah is getting the largest chunk of funds among states in the Mountain West. The state has seven different projects receiving a total of about $22.5 million.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Kaleb is an award-winning journalist and KUNR’s Mountain West News Bureau reporter. His reporting covers issues related to the environment, wildlife and water in Nevada and the region.
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