Posts Tagged ‘Southern Nevada Water Authority’

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

By Sean Whaley | 2:00 am November 29th, 2011

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.”

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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.”

 

Groundwater Pumping Plan Now In Hands Of State Engineer As Marathon Hearing Concludes

By Sean Whaley | 3:10 pm November 18th, 2011

CARSON CITY – The fate of an ambitious plan by the Southern Nevada Water Authority to pump more  than 125,00-acre feet of groundwater from rural areas of the state to slake the thirst of Las Vegas residents is now in the hands of the state engineer after a marathon hearing that began Sept. 26.

State Engineer Jason King heard closing arguments today in the application process, with attorneys representing opponents of the project asking him to deny the water rights sought by the agency.

Attorneys for Utah ranchers, Native American tribes, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and rural Nevadans argued that granting the applications would harm the environment and destroy their way of life.

Courtesy of the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

In her testimony in support of the plan two months ago, 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.

The closing arguments wrapped up weeks of testimony about the effects of the groundwater pumping on the rural aquifers.

Las Vegas attorney Paul Hejmanowski, representing the Mormon church in opposing the groundwater applications in Spring Valley, said there are no protections for rural areas if the pumping ends up causing harm, despite agreements between the water authority and federal agencies to monitor and respond to declines in the water table.

“Mistakes can happen,” he said. “Where are our protections.”

If the applications are granted, all the springs will go dry and “cause groundwater mining on an unprecedented scale,” Hejmanowski said. “These applications need to be denied for the reasons we discussed. They are not in the public interest.”

Paul EchoHawk, an attorney representing affected Native American tribes, including the Goshutes and Shoshone, also argued against granting the applications. He also criticized federal government agencies for not representing tribal concerns at the hearings because they had previously entered into “stipulated agreements” with the water authority on the groundwater pumping plan.

EchoHawk called them “backroom deals” that were entered into without consulting the tribes, and said they should be disregarded by the state engineer in considering the applications.

Attorney Paul Taggart, representing the water authority, argued that substantial evidence has been submitted to support the groundwater requests.

“Don’t mistake as public interest the very small vocal minority when there are millions of people who need this water in Southern Nevada,” he said. “Approve these applications to secure a safe and reliable water supply for seven out of 10 Nevadans, and to secure the future economic development of Nevada.”

In her testimony in September, Mulroy said 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. The river is over-appropriated and a prolonged drought could create a shortage in coming years, she said.

There is no viable alternative to guarantee a supply of water to Southern Nevada, with desalination plants not a realistic short-term option, she said. The agency is seeking 125,976-acre feet of groundwater in Delamar, Dry Lake, Cave and Spring Valleys as part of an ambitious $7 billion project to pipe the water south. The applications have the potential to affect ranching communities in Utah as well.

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.

Opponents argued that more conservation could alleviate the need for the groundwater.

Mulroy said the agency has an aggressive turf reduction project that has helped conserve Southern Nevada’s water supplies.

Courtesy of the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

The parties in the request have until Dec. 23 to file written closing briefs. The public has until Dec. 2 to file any written comments.

A decision is expected sometime next year.

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Audio clips:

Las Vegas attorney Paul Hejmanowski says approving the applications will cause the springs in Spring Valley to go dry:

111811Hejmanowski :28 an unprecedented scale.”

Water Authority attorney Paul Taggart says the water is needed to assure the economic viability of Southern Nevada:

111811Taggart :21 development of Nevada.”

 

 

Opponents of Groundwater Pumping Plan Presenting Their Case to State Engineer

By Sean Whaley | 4:12 pm October 31st, 2011

CARSON CITY – Opponents of a proposal by the Southern Nevada Water Authority to pipe rural Nevada groundwater south to quench the thirst of Las Vegas got their chance to argue against the project today before State Engineer Jason King.

The hearings began Sept. 26 and are scheduled to run through Nov. 18. The water authority made its case to tap the rural groundwater supplies over the first several weeks of hearings.

Opponents, including Utah officials, the Great Basin Water Network and the Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation, have been given through Nov. 15 to make their arguments that the request for 125,976-acre feet of groundwater in Delamar, Dry Lake, Cave and Spring Valleys would harm the environment and economic viability of rural Nevada and Utah.

Much of the hearing today focused on concerns by Utah officials that tapping the groundwater from southern Spring Valley in Nevada would adversely affect water resources in the adjoining southern Snake Valley that straddles the Nevada-Utah state line.

Hugh Hurlow, a senior scientist with the Ground Water & Paleontology Program for the Utah Geological Survey and a witness for Millard and Juab counties in Utah opposed to the applications, testified that his analysis shows that pumping from southern Spring Valley could potentially cause groundwater levels to decline in the Snake Valley because of the interbasin flow that now occurs from west to east.

Hugh Hurlow, a witness for the opposition to the Southern Nevada Water Authority groundwater project, testifies today. / Nevada News Bureau.

The flow from southern Spring Valley to the southern Snake Valley is estimated at between 4,000-acre-feet to 33,000-acre-feet per year, he said in his testimony.

Using the lower range of the estimates for his calculations, Hurlow said he estimates that between 10 percent and 25 percent of the southern Snake Valley groundwater comes from the interbasin flow from the west from southern Spring Valley.

This would adversely affect well levels and springs in the southern Snake Valley which is already under stress due to agricultural and other uses, he said.

“So that is why I think that a reduction of the interbasin flow from Spring Valley to Snake Valley could have adverse effects to the groundwater system in Snake Valley,” Hurlow said in response to questioning from Mark Ward, the attorney representing the Utah counties in the proceedings.

Utah attorney Mark Ward presented the Utah county case against the water project today. / Nevada News Bureau.

He also argued that if water rights are granted, that a proposed monitoring system include test wells in Utah that would need to be operated for several decades to track any changes in groundwater levels and flow.

Attorney Paul Taggart, representing the water authority in the hearing, noted that the agency has asked the state engineer to include such a monitoring program if water rights applications are granted.

He also cited two studies suggesting the interbasin flow is no more than 4,000-acre-feet annually. Only one study suggests the flow is greater than 12,000-acre-feet, Taggart said.

Pat Mulroy, general manager of the authority, said in opening arguments in September that the plan to acquire unappropriated groundwater rights in rural Nevada to supplement Southern Nevada’s supply of Colorado River water is 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.

Opponents argue that more conservation and the pursuit of desalinization plants would be better alternatives to taking the groundwater.

Mulroy said the agency has taken aggressive steps to improve conservation efforts, including a turf reduction program, and that environmental issues make the desalinization option unlikely to become available in the near term.

Even if the water applications are granted, it would be at least 10 years before construction of a pipeline costing an estimated $7 billion would move forward, Mulroy said.

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Audio clips:

Hugh Hurlow, a senior scientist with the Ground Water & Paleontology Program for the Utah Geological Survey, says Spring Valley groundwater flows into the Snake Valley:

103111Hurlow1 :29 southern Snake Valley.”

Hurlow says about 10 percent to 25 percent of the southern Snake Valley water comes from the Spring Valley to the west:

103111Hurlow2 :25 southern Snake Valley.”

Hurlow says that is why there could be adverse impacts on the southern Snake Valley:

103111Hurlow3 :14 in Snake Valley.

Southern Nevada Water Authority attorney Paul Taggart says most studies show smaller amounts of interbasin transfer:

103111Taggart :23 these prior studies.”

 

 

Public Passionately Weighs In On Las Vegas Plan To Pump Rural Groundwater South

By Sean Whaley | 4:15 pm October 7th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Supporters of a plan by the Southern Nevada Water Authority to pump more  than 125,00-acre feet of groundwater from rural areas of the state to slake the thirst of urban residents said today the project is critical to keeping the state’s economic engine running.

But opponents said the groundwater pumping plan being considered by the Nevada State Engineer will be an environmental disaster for rural eastern Nevada, harming wildlife and altering the way of life of residents from Caliente to Ely.

Numerous representatives of Native American tribes also spoke in opposition to the water importation plan, arguing it would permanently alter their way of life as well. About 40 Goshute, Shoshone and Paiute tribal members traveled by bus from the Utah/Nevada border area to attend and speak at the hearing in Carson City.

Clell Pete of the Confederated Tribes of the Goshute offers a prayer today outside the Las Vegas water hearing. About 40 members of the tribe, and others, protested the project. / Photo: Sean Whaley, Nevada News Bureau.

Hearings on the plan have been ongoing for two weeks and are expected to continue through Nov. 18 before Nevada State Engineer Jason King. A number of groups have formally opposed the agency’s request for 125,976-acre feet in Delamar, Dry Lake, Cave and Spring Valleys.

Today was set aside for members of the public to comment on the plan. Testimony was taken from around the state via video conference, including Caliente, Ely and Las Vegas. More than two dozen speakers took the opportunity to comment on the project, which ultimately could cost Las Vegas water rate payers as much as $7 billion. Construction would not begin for at least 10 to 15 years.

Danny Thompson, executive secretary-treasurer of the Nevada State AFL-CIO, testified in support of the proposal, saying the water agency has aggressively pursued conservation initiatives in an effort to maximize the use of the state’s allotment of water from the Colorado River.

“This state is in a place where we have never been before,” he said. “Our economy is a disaster. And we have a reliance on a single industry. I would tell you that this is more than just about inter-basin transfers, this is about the well being of the state of Nevada.”

Failure to approve the importation plan would mean gambling with the economic viability of the state, Thompson said.

Hearing Officer Susan Joseph-Taylor and State Engineer Jason King listen to testimony via video conference today. / Photo: Sean Whaley, Nevada News Bureau.

Frank Wyatt, president of Pinnacle Homes and president of the Southern Nevada Home Builders Association, also testified in support.

“From local home builders to suppliers and construction professionals, we support thousands of jobs that benefit Nevada’s economy,” he said. “To ensure job opportunities continue, Southern Nevada must have predictable water resources.”

The project will provide protection to Nevada from a drought in the Colorado River basin and diversify water resources, Wyatt said.

Brian McAnallen, vice president of government affairs for the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce, also supported the project.

“Achieving and maintaining good water quality today while preparing for the delivery system needs of tomorrow is essential to our community and it’s good public policy,” he said. “Southern Nevadans have already answered the call to conserve water.”

Susan Wetmore, a resident of Baker, Nevada, criticized the plan, however.

“I believe that the proposed pipeline is unwise, environmentally irresponsible and wasteful,” she said. “It is unwise because no one really knows what the effects of pumping will be on our hydrologic basins.”

Ronda Hornbeck, a lifetime resident of Lincoln County, said the water applications would restrict opportunities for economic development in rural Nevada.

“Southern Nevada Water Authority, by taking the water from the other counties, potentially takes away the ability of the smaller counties to continue and grow and prosper the same as Clark County wants to do,” she said.

“Why is it OK to destroy one community to save another?” Hornbeck asked. “The state water engineer states that if the water is granted, and there are impacts to the existing water rights and ecosystems, Southern Nevada Water Authority will have to stop pumping. By the time pumping impacts are noticed, it will be too late.”

Critics said the agency should work on desalinization plants instead of piping rural water south.

At the first day of the hearing, however, Pat Mulroy, general manager of the authority, said desalinization is not practical in the near term due to environmental concerns in neighboring California.

Tansey Smith, representing the Inter-Tribal Council of Nevada, read portions of a resolution approved in October 2010 in opposition to the project.

Tansey Smith, representing the Inter-Tribal Council of Nevada, speaks in opposition to the water plan. / Photo: Sean Whaley, Nevada News Bureau.

“But overall, if we could take the consideration of the Native American people who are continuing to use this precious resource for cultural purposes as part of the Great Basin culture of the state of Nevada, that would be a good thing,” she said.

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Audio clips:

Frank Wyatt, president of Pinnacle Homes and president of the Southern Nevada Home Builders Association, says the project is an economic benefit for Nevada:

100711Wyatt :14 predictable water resources.”

Susan Wetmore of Baker, Nevada, says the project is unwise and irresponsible:

100711Wetmore :14 our hydrologic basins.”

Lincoln County resident Ronda Hornbeck says taking the rural water will make it difficult for the areas to develop economically:

100711Hornbeck1 :16 wants to do.”

Hornbeck says by the time the pumping of the water is found to be harming rural Nevada it will be too late:

100711Hornbeck2 :27 and social impossibility.”

Tansey Smith, representing the Inter-Tribal Council of Nevada, says Native American uses of the rural water should be considered:

100711Smith :26 people know that.”

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

By Sean Whaley | 3:25 pm September 26th, 2011

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.”

 

 

Public Comment Period Set For Oct. 7 In Southern Nevada Water Rights Hearings

By Nevada News Bureau Staff | 6:19 pm September 20th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Nevada State Engineer Jason King today announced additional locations for public comment during the upcoming Southern Nevada Water Authority water-rights hearings.

The hearing is scheduled for multiple weeks beginning Sept. 26. Public comment is scheduled for Oct. 7 starting at 8 a.m. and will be video cast from several locations. The locations for public comment are the Nevada Legislative Building in Carson City, Room 1214; the Grant Sawyer State Office Building in Las Vegas, Room 4412; and the Great Basin College in Ely, Room 112.

Groundwater basin locations for SNWA applications.

Written public comments are also being accepted until 5 p.m. on Dec. 2. Comments should be addressed to the attention of Susan Joseph-Taylor, chief hearing officer, Office of the State Engineer, 901 South Stewart Street, Suite 2002, Carson City, Nevada 89701.

The hearing will be broadcast by audio and video on the internet from the Nevada Legislature.

The hearing will be held during normal business hours. The schedule of case presentations is:

- Sept. 26 through Oct. 6: Opening statements and Southern Nevada Water Authority

- Oct. 7: Public comment.

- Oct. 10–14: Southern Nevada Water Authority.

- Oct. 31: Henry Vogler, Juab County, Utah, Millard County, Utah (protestants).Nov. 1: EskDale Center, Great Basin Water Network (protestants).

- Nov. 2-10: Great Basin Water Network (protestant).

- Nov. 14 and 15: Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation, Duckwater Shoshone Tribe, Ely Shoshone Tribe (protestants).

- Nov.16: Corporation of the Presiding Bishop of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (protestant).

- Nov. 17: Long Now Foundation (protestant).

- Nov. 18: Closing arguments.

Hearing Background

In 1989, the Las Vegas Valley Water District filed 146 water-right applications to appropriate nearly all of the unappropriated groundwater in 27 hydrographic basins, for a total appropriation of 180,000 acre-feet of groundwater. It later withdrew 32 applications from 10 of the basins and other applications were transferred to Lincoln County. Most of the applications have been assigned to the Southern Nevada Water Authority, which was created after the filing of the applications.

Permits were granted on applications filed in Spring Valley, Cave Valley, Delamar Valley and Dry Lake Valley; however, the Nevada Supreme Court held that the statutory process for postponing action on the applications had not been followed and remanded consideration of the applications back to the State Engineer with the requirement that the protest period be re-opened. The applications were republished in early 2011, which re-opened the protest period, and the new hearing does not include Snake Valley.

The total acre-feet of groundwater requested by SNWA from Delamar, Dry Lake, Cave and Spring Valleys is 125,976 acre-feet. There are applications pending in other hydrographic basins that have not been acted on, and the protest period on those applications will also be re-opened when the State Engineer is ready to move forward with action on those applications.

Information

More information, including documents, exhibits and groundwater basin inventories, is available online.

Nevada Water Law

An overview of Nevada water law is also available.

BLM Solicits Public Comment on Controversial Water Pipeline Project

By Anne Knowles | 4:44 pm August 2nd, 2011

 

A series of public meetings on the plan to transport water from rural Nevada to Las Vegas is expected to draw a diverse group of allies trying to stop the controversial project.

Dozens of ranchers, farmers, hunters, tribal representatives, business owners and conservationists are expected to voice their opposition to the plan at the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) first gathering tonight at Pioche Elementary School, 180 miles northeast of Las Vegas.

The federal agency is hosting the meetings to answer questions and take public comment on its draft environmental impact statement (EIS) on the groundwater importation scheme.

“My guess is we’ll have between 30 and 250 people at each meeting,” said Susan Lynn, executive director of Public Resource Associates in Reno and a member of the board of directors at Great Basin Water Network, a coalition of about 40 groups working together to halt what it calls a “water grab.”

“We’ve strongly urged them to turn out if they want to be heard and if they want to register their concerns,” said Lynn. “And if they want more information because, frankly, a lot of information is missing from the draft environmental impact statement. The Southern Nevada Water Authority has not done anything to include costs, it has not really provided a valid argument for why this specific project is needed, and other alternatives for water sources have not been included. We feel there are some gaping holes that need to be addressed.”

Published in June, the EIS covers the first phase of the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s (SNWA) proposal to build a 300-mile pipeline to transport as much as 176,655 acre-feet of water annually to Las Vegas, from as far away as southeastern White Pine County.

The EIS looks only at the main pipeline, power line and primary lateral facilities, but the master project also calls for pumping stations, a water treatment facility, an underground water reservoir and other infrastructure needed to convey the water through White Pine, Lincoln and Clark counties.

The SNWA is applying to the BLM for the rights-of-ways (ROW) on federal lands needed to build the pipeline, and the BLM is required by law to produce a study or an EIS on major projects under the so-called NEPA process (National Environmental Policy Act).

If all the ROWs are approved and the Nevada state engineer grants all necessary water rights, the pipeline could begin conveying water to Las Vegas from Delamar Valley in Lincoln County by 2020, according to the EIS.

Understanding the environmental impact statement

The EIS itself is a massive document; the executive summary alone is 90 pages. In it, the BLM looks at the project’s impact on wildlife, both on land and in water; rangeland and grazing; public safety and health; recreation, such as hunting; air quality; and soil and minerals, as well as the effect on local economies and culture, including Native American traditional values.

The EIS outlines the SNWA proposal, then six alternatives — five labeled A through E and a sixth called a No Action alternative – and their corresponding environmental impact assessments. The BLM does not specify what it calls a “preferred” alternative, but concludes that alternative A may be considered a “reasonable scenario” for the project.

The BLM is hosting nine meetings, starting with tonight’s gathering in Lincoln County’s Pioche and concluding on Aug. 18 with a meeting at the Sparks High School in northern Nevada.

In between, meetings will be held in Baker, Ely, Elko, Las Vegas and Alamo, Nevada, and in Delta and Salt Lake City, Utah, where the hydrographic basins from which SNWA plans to pump are located.  The BLM is also taking public comment via email and fax, or the public can send in comments to the agency’s Reno office. The deadline to submit comments, originally Sept. 9, has been extended to Oct. 11.

The meetings will start with an hour-long open house at which the public can ask questions of scientists involved in preparing the EIS as well as submit comments to a court reporter.

Representatives from SNWA will also be on hand to answer questions, but will have minimal involvement in what is a BLM-led meeting, said Bronson Mack, a spokesperson for the Las Vegas-based water authority.

Then, in an unusual but not unprecedented procedure, there will be a formal, two-hour hearing during which people can testify before a BLM hearing officer.

“We formulated this to meet the needs of the public,” said Penny Woods, project manager in the BLM’s Nevada Groundwater Projects office in Reno. “The public really wanted a hearing-style meeting.”

Woods said she expects public comment to exceed what the BLM collected during the project’s so-called scoping phase, in 2005-2006, after the SNWA applied for the ROWs in 2004, when the agency received about 7,000 comments.

Once the comments on the draft EIS come in, Wood said they would be analyzed by project scientists, who will write replies, and be included in the final EIS.

Will the comments make a difference?

“I think the BLM will listen to the comments,” said Doug Busselman, executive vice president of the Nevada Farm Bureau Federation, a Sparks-based advocacy group for the state’s farmers and ranchers. “But having been involved in the NEPA process before, I always equate it to the phantom double play in baseball: you don’t have to touch second base, you just have to get close enough to look like you did. Everything I’ve seen in the past — and I don’t see it any differently in this particular case — there are pre-determined outcomes and the NEPA process becomes more of a justification to say, we considered what we needed to consider and we’re going to do what we’re going to do.”

Still, Busselman is strongly encouraging his members to attend the BLM meetings as well as the upcoming state engineer hearings.

“I think the water engineer’s decision is going to be driven by whatever science and evidence is presented in the water hearings themselves and whether the models that have been developed by the Southern Nevada Water Authority stand the test of being challenged or whether the folks that are opposed to it are able to present information that would substantiate their claims,” said Busselman.

“I think the strongest argument is the whole sustainability issue,” he said. “At some point in time, when the water runs out, they’ve spent a lot of money to create an infrastructure that may not have any water left in it to move water down. It really comes down to a sustainability issue not only for the impacted lands but also for those receiving water on the other end.”

The project does face another hurdle when the state engineer decides whether to grant SNWA the needed water rights for as much as 80,000 acre-feet of water in Spring, Cave, Dry Lake and Delamar valleys.

The engineer had previously allocated those rights to SNWA, but that was overturned when the Nevada Supreme Court ruled last year on a suit brought by the Great Basin Water Network. The high court said the state engineer had not taken action on SNWA’s water rights application in 1989 within a year, as required by law, forcing SNWA to reapply.

Those new hearings, open to the public, are being held at the Nevada State Legislature in Carson City starting Sept. 26 and continuing through until Nov. 18. A day for public comment is scheduled for Oct. 7, four days before the BLM comment period closes.

Possible problem from outside Nevada

But the project’s biggest stumbling block may be Utah, according to Pat Mulroy, general manager of SNWA, who appeared on Nevada NewsMakers today.

“There is still tremendous push back out of Utah. We had a negotiated agreement that has yet to be finalized on the Utah side,” said Mulroy. “It sitting in Utah and there seems to be no willingness on the Utah side.”

Mulroy said the issue may have to be resolved either by Congress or taking it to the U.S. Supreme Court to gain what she said was an equitable apportionment of Snake Valley, which straddles the two states.

Great Basin Water Network is confident the project can be curtailed if not stalled, one way or another.

“I really do strongly feel there is a chance that this will be reduced in size or not happen at all because I think there are so many other alternatives, at lower cost,” said Lynn. “I hope that rational minds will prevail on the costs and impacts.”

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Audio clips:

Nevada Farm Bureau Federation’s Busselman says SNWA project is unsustainable:

07282011Busselman :15 move water down.”

 

Great Basin Water Network’s Lynn says public comment should be civil and fact-based:

07292011Lynn1 :13 with the facts.”

 

Lynn says the project will destroy Nevada’s rural landscape:

07292011Lynn2 :23 landscapes out there.”