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September 1, 2014

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Snake Valley water hearings won’t happen until late next year

(Originally posted at 2:08 p.m.)

CARSON CITY – Opponents of Southern Nevada Water Authority’s plans to pump water from Snake Valley in Eastern Nevada to fast-growing Las Vegas will have more than a year to build a case against the pipeline.

The water authority has asked the state Water Resources Division for permission to draw more than 50,000 acre feet a year -- more than 16 billion gallons -- from the valley that lies mainly across the border in Utah.

Opponents at a hearing Tuesday argued that they should have at least a year to do additional studies of the groundwater in the rural ranching valley, and to model how pumping the water to Las Vegas would effect the water table and the environment.

They said a $2 million study by the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Nevada Reno funded by the Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act, which began in April, should be completed before State Engineer Tracy Taylor rules on the pumping plan. The study won’t be completed until fall of 2011, although test wells could begin producing data as soon as spring 2009.

J. Mark Ward ,of the Utah Association of Counties, said that because only a small corner of Snake Valley is in Nevada, Utah’s rural Millard County should also be given time to work with staff from the state’s own Water Resources Division to completely study how much water Snake Valley residents and business on the Utah side are using and what the impacts of pumping on them might be there.

Ward argued the application of the Southern Nevada Water Authority would lower the water table in Snake Valley and degrade the quality of water, affecting existing water rights and threatening springs in the area. He said he also wants to make the argument during hearings – tentatively scheduled for the fall of 2009 - that pumping will degrade the air quality.

And Ward said he wants Taylor to hold a public hearing in Salt Lake City because there is a “lot of interest” in this water case in Utah.

Ward, representing Millard County in Utah, said that state’s Legislature put up $2 million for a study of water available in Snake Valley. He told Taylor, “You don’t have a lot of information about the Utah side.”

But Susan Joseph Taylor, chief hearing officer for the Nevada Water Resources Division, seemed reluctant to hold a hearing in Salt Lake to gather public comment even via teleconference. She said hearings would like again be simulcast from Ely and Baker, Nev., both in White Pine County. Opponents from Utah and Nevada will also be allowed to file written comments.

Taylor’s office initially seemed set on holding hearings over two weeks in January, 2009.

But Ward and attorneys for the U.S. Department of Interior, Nye County, Indian groups and other opponents asked that hearings be postponed at least until the summer of 2009 and possibly into 2010.

Joseph Taylor said hearings in the fall of 2009 would be announced this year. Although she said she wanted to hold the hearings to two weeks, opponents and SNWA estimated it would take at least three weeks of testimony to wrap up both sides.

The water authority has filed a number of applications to draw water from rural Nevada. Last year, Taylor ruled on the request for 91,234 acre feet a year from Spring Valley. Taylor ruled that the authority may draw 40,000 acre feet of water a year. And after ten years, if there are no adverse impacts, the water pumped may increase to 60,000 acre feet.

Last week, Taylor authorized an annual 18,755 acre feet from Cave, Dry Lake and Delamar valleys. The authority had asked for 34,752 acre feet. An acre foot of water amounts to 325,851 gallons.

J.C. Davis, a spokesman for SNWA, said construction of the pipeline is estimated to cost $3.5 billion.

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