Official Says Southern Nevada Could Be Economically Strangled Without Additional Water Supplies

CARSON CITY – Not only could Las Vegas residents someday see water shortages without approval of an ambitious plan to pipe groundwater from rural Nevada, but investment in the region could dry up as well without a dependable supply of H2O, the head of the Southern Nevada Water Authority said today.

Pat Mulroy, general manager of the authority, said the plan to acquire unappropriated groundwater rights in rural Nevada to supplement Southern Nevada’s supply of Colorado River water is absolutely essential to the economic future of the region.

Southern Nevada needs to ensure it has a diverse supply of water for that time in the not-so-distant future when the states sharing the Colorado River basin fully use their allotments, she said. The river is over-appropriated and a prolonged drought could create a shortage in coming years, Mulroy said.

Pat Mulroy, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, testifies today at the agency's water rights hearing. / Photo: Sean Whaley, Nevada News Bureau.

Investors from around the world, from Asia to Dubai, won’t invest in Las Vegas without assurances that there will be water available in Southern Nevada well into the future, she said.

Mulroy made her comments as the first witness in what will be several weeks of hearings by the Nevada State Engineer on the request for the groundwater from several rural basins in the east-central region of the state. Closing arguments for the applications are scheduled for Nov. 18.

A number of groups are protesting the applications for nearly 186,000-acre-feet of groundwater per year being sought by the agency from the basins. This first set of hearings is to consider the agency’s request for 125,976-acre feet in Delamar, Dry Lake, Cave and Spring Valleys.

Simeon Herskovits, representing the Great Basin Water Network and a number of other groups protesting the applications, said in his opening statement that the methodology used by the water authority to show that the groundwater is available is “slanted” and “skewed” to justify the requests.

There are more cost-effective and reliable alternatives to building this massive pipeline project, he said. Additional water conservation is readily available to extend supplies, Herskovits said.

Simeon Herskovits, representing the Great Basin Water Network, listens to testimony at the water rights hearing today. / Photo: Nevada News Bureau.

“Granting the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s applications for the groundwater in these four valleys would create impermissible conflicts with other existing water rights both in the subject valleys themselves and in hydrologically connected valleys that will inevitably be impacted if these applications are granted and the pumping is allowed to go forward,” he said.

He was joined in an opening statement in opposition by Paul EchoHawk, an attorney representing affected Native American tribes, including the Goshutes and Shoshone.

In his opening statement, Paul Taggart, representing the water authority, said those opposing the applications do not have the law, facts or science on their side.

Vast amounts of evidence will show there is water in the basins that is not already appropriated, water that is needed in Southern Nevada for the nearly two million residents and 40 million visitors annually, he said.

“Backing up the Colorado River supply with this groundwater does not threaten to prove detrimental to the public interest,” Taggart said. “Without this water, an imminent threat is posed that Nevada’s residents will not have a resource that is essential for survival in the desert.”

While the applications are critical for long-term planning purposes, Mulroy said the water would not be tapped for many years if the applications are approved. Beyond the hearing process, construction of a pipeline to bring the water to Southern Nevada will take 10 to 15 years, she said.

The cost of the pipeline project is estimated at more than $7 billion, which would be paid for by Southern Nevada water customers.

Pat Mulroy, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority. / Photo: Nevada News Bureau.

Mulroy said conservation is a key part of the agency’s strategy for ensuring adequate water supplies, including an ambitious turf removal program.

“It is a commitment on our part that conservation is the first thing we’re responsible for, and the most important thing for us to do is to reduce per capita consumption,” she said. “And to that extent we will continue to invest in removing turf.”

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Audio clips:

Pat Mulroy, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, says conservation is a top priority for the agency:

092611Mulroy1 :18 in removing turf.”

Simeon Herskovits, representing the Great Basin Water Network and a number of other groups protesting the applications, says the water authority data is slanted and skewed:

092611Herskovits1 :12 in fact, available.”

Herskovits says rather than build an expensive pipeline, more could be done in water conservation:

092611Herskovits2 :24 justifying these applications.”

Herskovits says granting the applications will create conflicts with other existing water rights holders:

092611Herskovits3 :21 to go forward.”

Paul Taggart, representing the water authority, says that without approval of the applications, Southern Nevada residents are threatened with inadequate water supplies:

092611Taggart1 :15 in the desert.”