As fire season begins to ramp up across the American West, firefighters in Nevada will have more money this year to battle those blazes. That's due, in part, to new legislation passed by lawmakers during the 2019 session, but that's one of the many environmentally-related bills to come out of the legislature. KUNR's Paul Boger spoke with Daniel Rothberg with the Nevada Independent to break it all down.
“Over the last two years, we’ve seen more than two million acres burn in the Great Basin, which is a huge amount of fire," Rothberg said. "I think you saw a response by the legislature that this is a serious issue and they want to take it a little more seriously by devoting more funds. That happened in a couple of different areas. The legislature appropriated, at sort of the last minute, [up to] $5 million in wildfire prevention funds to match federal funds. They also created this $10 million contingency fund for fire suppression.”
Lawmakers also attempted to pass legislation that would have given the state engineer more authority in monitoring, managing and mitigating water usage, otherwise known as called 3M plans. Essentially, that individual would be able to determine who gets the water when conflicts between water-users arise. The measure was controversial, with opponents arguing that it would favor urban areas to the detriment of rural ranching communities. That group pointed to the much-litigated and long-stalled Southern Nevada Water Pipeline meant to move water from rural Eastern Nevada into Clark County.
That measure eventually died, and an interim study was commissioned to further look into the issue. Rothberg says the study will hopefully spark an overdue conversation about the state’s water laws.
“I think there is a desire to move beyond just the pipeline and talk about other issues and what water users across the state need going forward because, right now, I think everytime one of these bills is proposed, it’s seen myopically through the lens of a particular project, and it makes it difficult to address the larger questions around Nevada water law.”
Lawmakers also took steps to create an Office of Outdoor Recreation that would be in charge of creating and regulating a state recreation plan, advocating for federal conservation efforts and funding and collecting data on the outdoor industry. It’s a move similar to what six other Western states have done in recent years. However, Rothberg says some have concerns.
“I think some conservationists have some reservations about how effective that’s going to be, and I think that’ll be interesting to watch. But if the bill is executed as the language contemplates, the Office of Outdoor Recreation will perform a function of protecting and preserving the public land that the outdoor recreation economy and outdoor recreation businesses rely on.”