Las Vegas has a powerful thirst. Back in the 1922, when its population was tiny, Nevada agreed to a microscopic 4% share of Colorado River water, a decision it has long regretted. So, Las Vegas looked at Utah, saw all that tasty water just sitting there. The feds wanted an agreement. However, after several years of negotiations, Utah Governor Gary Herbert killed the deal.
Utah has sent a message to Nevada: What flows into Utah stays in Utah, even if Las Vegas is thirsty.
“There is no more complex and emotional issue with which I have grappled as governor of this great state,” he said. “I won’t impose a solution on those most impacted that they themselves cannot support.”
Seven states share water from the Colorado under an ancient agreement that everyone agrees is outmoded, yet no one wants to re-negotiate for fear of losing water shares.
“The straw that breaks the camel’s back is going to be Las Vegas,” said McCool, who dubs this period in western water history “the big shakeout.”