Wednesday, July 9, 2008 | 11:27 a.m.
(Updated at 1:43 p.m.) CARSON CITY – State Engineer Tracy Taylor is granting the Southern Nevada Water Authority additional permission to draw 6.1 billion gallons of water from eastern Nevada a year for use in the growing Las Vegas area.
The authority sought 11.1 billion gallons but Scott Huntley, a spokesman for the authority, said it was “very pleased” with the ruling.
The application to the state sought 34,752 acre feet a year and Taylor granted 18,755 acre feet, about 53 percent of the request.
Huntley called it a “strong ruling” and it will translate into 32,100 acre feet with the re-use by the authority from the return flows.
Susan Lynn, a spokeswoman for the Great Basin Water Network, complained the ruling would hurt ranchers and wildlife areas in the areas south of Cave, Dry Lake and Delamar Valleys where the water will be drawn from.
She called it a “very tough decision.”
Huntley said Taylor has been conservative in granting water withdrawals to make sure areas are protected. And the water authority expected that it would not receive all it asked for.
Last year, Taylor granted 40,000 acre feet from Spring Valley in White Pine County. The authority had sought 91,000 acre feet.
An acre foot is equal to about 326,000 gallons of water.
Taylor, in his ruling, retained the authority to halt any pumping if there are impacts to existing water rights or conflicts with existing domestic wells. He said if the pumping threatens to prove detrimental to the public interest or is found not to be environmentally sound, he will also stop the pumping.
Allen Biaggi, director of the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, said the ruling “demonstrates the strength of Nevada’s water law in balancing the needs of its citizens, protecting existing water rights and protecting Nevada’s natural resources.”
Biaggi is the boss of Taylor and he said the “ruling is consistent with state law” and “is based on the best available science and it allows for mitigation should environmental impacts occur in these basins as a result of pumping ground water.”
The Southern Nevada Water Authority is seeking water from sources within the state as an eight-year drought continues on the Colorado River, plunging Lake Mead's level more than 100 feet.
Although environmentalists say the state engineer's decision has generally trimmed requests by the water authority for unallocated groundwater in half, there is a concern that the state's decisions are "a mixed bag," said Launce Rake, spokesman for the Progressive Leadership Alliance, a statewide group that opposes the water shift.
"We're gratified that the full 38,000 acre-feet a year was denied," Rake said. "It's consistent with the state engineer's other rulings on the water grab."
But the group has concerns, Rake said.
Monitoring and mitigation of the rural valleys' water rests in the hands of the water authority, Rake said. "To say we don't trust the water authority is an understatement," he said.
The larger concern is that the water authority's requests are so large, that they are unsustainable, Rake said. "These valleys are in extreme drought and need more protection for wildlife and to sustain their communities," he said.