February 5, 2008

Nevada Hearing Mulls Water to Las Vegas

Associated Press

CARSON CITY, Nev. - A hearing took place this week into plans to pump billions of gallons of water from three rural Nevada valleys to booming Las Vegas - with proponents saying state officials should ignore foes who contend the pumping will end the valleys' growth prospects.

Opponents of the plan by the Southern Nevada Water Authority compare it to a Los Angeles water grab that parched California's once-fertile Owens Valley in the early 1900s.

But Attorney Paul Taggart, representing SNWA which wants more than 11.3 billion gallons of groundwater a year from Delamar, Dry Lake and Cave valleys, said Monday some of the growth possibilities mentioned by opponents are "nothing more than speculation."

Taggart also said state Engineer Tracy Taylor, who must rule on the pumping plan, wouldn't be the first Nevada official to determine that water from an outlying valley would be best used as a resource for growing urban areas.

"The highest and best use of this water resource is in the Las Vegas Valley," Taggart said in opening arguments on the bid for the water, which is a key component of SNWA $2 billion-plus project to pipe water across the desert to Las Vegas.

Kay Brothers, SNWA's deputy general manager, outlined an elaborate system of monitoring wells to ensure the pumping doesn't cause environmental damage in the valleys.

The monitoring system resulted in the federal Interior Department and the Moapa Band of Paiute Indians dropping their opposition to the plan last month - but farmers, ranchers and others fear they'll lose their way of life in the remote area.

Critics argue that relevant information wasn't made public and that more planning and studies are needed. They also say growth potential in some areas would be sharply curtailed because of a lack of available groundwater for future development.

Simeon Herskovits, attorney for the Great Basin Water Network, said the plan should be rejected because there's not enough water in the valleys for exportation without harming existing water users and the environment.

Herskovitz represents a group of ranchers and farmers opposed to the project, as well as local irrigation companies, a water board, the Sierra Club, Nevada Cattlemen's Association and White Pine County which borders the county where the valleys are located.

The project is bcked 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.

The valleys are all in central Lincoln County, which initially opposed the plan but reached an agreement with the water authority that states which groundwater basins can developed. The agreement also allows for use of the pipeline, for a price, by the county.

The agency, feeling the effects of a seven-year drought on the Colorado River from which it gets 90 percent of its water, hopes to begin delivering the rural groundwater to Las Vegas by 2015.

The water authority's eventual goal is to tap into enough water in rural Nevada to serve more than 230,000 homes, in addition to about 400,000 households already getting the agency's water in the Las Vegas area, one of the fastest growing regions in the nation.