Coalition Calls For Rejection Of Groundwater Pumping Project By Southern Nevada Water Authority

CARSON CITY – A coalition of environmental groups opposed to a plan by the Southern Nevada Water Authority to pump groundwater from rural Nevada to Las Vegas to supply future demand says the project is unnecessary, expensive and would cause harm to the environment.

The coalition said it has more than 1,000 statements from Nevada residents expressing concern about the project to present to the Nevada State Engineer, who will rule early next year on the first set of groundwater applications reviewed during a lengthy hearing that ended Nov. 18.

Courtesy of the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

Public comment is still being accepted by the agency through Dec. 2.

“In tough economic times, it is outrageous that such a boondoggle could be approved,” said Marie Logan, Nevada organizer for Food & Water Watch. “This pipeline project would only benefit a handful of developers while the 2.6 million Nevada taxpayers and thousands of Las Vegas ratepayers will be stuck paying the bill for a project that will ultimately bankrupt the state’s natural resources.”

The Center for Biological Diversity will also be submitting more than 21,000 comments in opposition to the project gathered nationally to Gov. Brian Sandoval, the water authority and the State Engineer.

Utah ranchers, Native American tribes, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and rural Nevadans formally protested the applications during the hearing process. They argued that granting the applications would harm the environment and destroy their way of life. The water applications would potentially affect Utah communities as well.

Several Southern Nevada labor groups have supported the project.

The water authority argued in the hearing that 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.

The authority said the water would not be tapped for many years if the applications are approved. Beyond the hearing process, construction of a 300-mile pipeline to bring the water to Southern Nevada will take 10 to 15 years. The pipeline project cost is estimated at $7 billion, a figure opponents said is well below what it will actually cost ratepayers.

Launce Rake, representing the Great Basin Water Network, said the actual estimate when financing costs are included is $15 billion. The cost of the project will be borne by water customers, who will see significant increases to pay for it, he said. The residential construction growth that was to pay for the project is no longer there, Rake said.

“It’s going to triple residential water bills,” he said. “It’s going to more than double bills for small businesses. And when you start looking at the impact on our recession-ravaged community of sucking $15 billion out of that community, that’s pretty significant.”

Rake said Southern Nevada is now using about 200,000 acre feet of its allocation from the Colorado River. There is a healthy reserve available to ensure a reliable water supply well into the future, he said.

Despite the controversy over the project, or maybe because of it, Nevada’s elected officials have been mostly absent from the debate.

One exception is Assemblyman Joe Hogan, D-Las Vegas, who testified in opposition to the project at the hearing, citing environmental concerns. He also spoke at the coalition’s event Monday in Las Vegas, citing the potential costs of protracted litigation over the project.

Hogan said the environmental consequences of the project are highest on his list of concerns. But there are also the costs of dealing with potential legal claims arising from the pumping of the groundwater.

The Los Angeles Water and Power Department has expended $1 billion on remediation for environmental damage in the Owens Lake area from that water diversion completed decades ago, he said.

“The remediation that is needed will be what makes those things really become very large layouts in future years,” Hogan said.

Hogan said the need for jobs is one likely reason why many elected officials are staying silent on the pipeline project.

“I think that accounts for some of the timidity,” he said.

Rake said that because taking a position either way would alienate someone,  it has been easier for elected officials to stay out of the debate.

“I do know that there are a number of elected officials who are concerned about the impact of this,” he said. “And I think that a growing number of elected officials are more than just concerned, but they’re becoming aware that the cost, both environmentally and financially, is really, really pretty significant.”


Audio clips:

Launce Rake, representing the Great Basin Water Network, says a growing number of elected officials are concerned:

112811Rake1 :17 really pretty significant.”

Rake says people of all political persuasions should be concerned:

112811Rake2 :25 concerned about this.”

Assemblyman Joe Hogan says the potential for remediation costs are significant:

112811Hogan :31 correcting the situation.”


  • TonysTake

    “IT’S MINE AND YOU CAN’T HAVE ANY!! (as they stomp their feet and have a childish fit).

    Well, exactly who owns this water?  Is it the Feds, the people of Nevada, or does it belong to this ad hock coalition?  It sure doesn’t belong to some nameless group, so their opinion carries no more weight than an ordinary citizen.

    Children had to learn to share but  it appears that some adults missed that year of kindergarten or conveniently forgot the lesson.  If they wish to play this way however, the Clark County group is bigger and tuffer than all their little groups put together.  And yes… “My Dad is bigger than yours.”