water ruling issued
7/9/2008, Capital Press
CITY, Nev. (AP) - A bid to pump more than 11 billion gallons
of groundwater a year from three rural Nevada valleys to Las
Vegas was cut to just over 6 billion gallons and approved
Wednesday by the state's water engineer.
The ruling by state Engineer Tracy Taylor follows a hearing
that ended in February with the Southern Nevada Water
Authority saying it's entitled to the water from Delamar, Dry
Lake and Cave Valleys and opponents warning that the pumping
could have a catastrophic impact.
SNWA representatives had contended the water authority met all
requirements for the pumping and critics' disaster scenarios
The Great Basin Water Network opposed the plan, saying SNWA
tried to hide evidence that the pumping may harm existing
water users and the environment in rural Nevada because
there's not enough water in the valleys for long-term
Taylor said use of the water in the amounts he approved "will
not unduly limit future growth and development" in the three
valleys, all in central Lincoln County.
But before any water is pumped, Taylor wants to see more
biological and hydrologic studies. He also said that pumping
will be halted or modified if it proves "detrimental to the
public interest or is found to not be environmentally sound."
Allen Biaggi, the state's conservation-natural resources chief
and Taylor's boss, said the ruling shows "the strength of
Nevada's water law in balancing the needs of its citizens,
protecting existing water rights and protecting Nevada's
Kay Brothers, SNWA's deputy general manager, said the water
authority recognized the state engineer's "somewhat
conservative" approach to water management in Nevada, the
nation's most arid state, and wouldn't challenge his decision.
"We respect the way he manages the state's water basins,"
Brothers said. "If that's what he's comfortable with, so are
Brothers noted that the valleys, located between about 75
miles and 125 miles from Las Vegas, will be the first tapped
for the agency's massive pipeline project, adding that
Taylor's decision "is exciting to us because it has added
water that makes this project stronger."
While the SNWA application sought more than 11.3 billion
gallons of groundwater a year from the valleys and the ruling
allows about 6.1 billion gallons, Susan Lynn of the Great
Basin Water Network said, "It's way too much considering there
are a whole lot of downstream groundwater users who rely on
that groundwater flow that is going to be intercepted."
Launce Rake, also representing the network, said a legal
effort to overturn the ruling or have it revised by Taylor "is
certainly a prospect. It's something we will be looking at
carefully as we review this decision."
Rake added that the valleys already are "really stressed" by
drought conditions, adding, "This decision can only exacerbate
The SNWA project opponents include ranchers and farmers, as
well as local irrigation companies, a water board, the Sierra
Club, Nevada Cattlemen's Association and White Pine County
which borders Lincoln County.
The project is backed by casino executives, developers, union
representatives and others who point to water conservation
efforts in the Las Vegas area and who warn of an economic
downturn affecting the entire state unless the city has enough
water to keep growing.
Lincoln County initially opposed the plan but reached an
agreement with the water authority on which groundwater basins
can developed. The agreement also allows for use of SNWA's
pipeline, for a price, by the county.
In a related case involving SNWA's application to pump 16
billion gallons of water a year from Snake Valley, on the
Nevada-Utah border in White Pine County, Taylor rejected bids
by three Indian tribes, local government entities in Nevada
and Utah and others for "interested persons" status in those
That ruling, which restricts participation in the Snake Valley
hearings scheduled to start on Tuesday, went against the Great
Basin Water Network, the Wells Band Te-Moak Tribe, Ely
Shoshone Tribe and Confederated Tribes of the Goshute
Taylor also rejected the status for Salt Lake and Utah
counties in Utah, Trout Unlimited, Water Keepers, the North
Snake Valley Water Association and Central Nevada Regional
Water Authority, representing six Nevada counties.
SNWA hopes to begin delivering rural groundwater to Las Vegas
by 2015. Its eventual goal is to import enough water to serve
more than 230,000 homes, in addition to about 400,000
households already getting its water. Cost of its
200-mile-long pipeline project has been estimated at anywhere
from $2 billion to $3.5 billion.