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October 9, 2015

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Long-awaited water-pipeline decision to follow hearings

Gov. Brian Sandoval is taking a hands-off approach to upcoming hearings on a plan by Las Vegas officials to pump millions of gallons of water to Southern Nevada from rural eastern Nevada.

“I will leave it to the administrative process,” said the governor, who added that he’s confident state engineer Jason King will reach a “learned decision” on whether to approve the applications of the Southern Nevada Water Authority in spite of objections from rural residents.

King will start the hearings Monday and the Water Authority will outline its case over two weeks. The public will have a chance on Oct. 7 to express opinions, then the Water Authority will have another week to wrap up arguments.

The district is applying for 125,976 acre-feet of water annually from valleys in Lincoln and White Pine counties. An acre-foot of water equals 325,851 gallons.

The district’s opening statement, prepared by Carson City attorney Paul Taggart, says the Las Vegas area could be out of water by 2028, and sooner if drought conditions persist. This water is needed to serve the growing population and provide economic success for Southern Nevada and the entire state, the district says.

“Expert testimony will show that a 10.5 percent decline in water supply in Southern Nevada will result in a decrease of economic output of Southern Nevada by $9.6 billion, a loss of 84,000 jobs and a decline in wages and salaries of $3 billion,” Taggart writes.

The Water Authority says the basins are not close to metropolitan areas, major transportation corridors or a skilled labor force. Other areas in the nation offer “far superior economic advantages” for agricultural development than in Lincoln and White Pine counties. The district wants to tap water from the Delamar, Dry Lake, Cave and Spring valleys.

Clark County residents have used less water in recent years. From 2002 to 2008, annual water consumption was reduced by nearly 21 billion gallons despite an increase of about 400,000 people. And 14 million square feet of turf grass has been torn out at a savings of 127,000 acre-feet of water during the past 10 years.

But opponents see the picture differently.

Officials with the Great Basin Water Network say the Water Authority doesn’t have “the financial ability and good faith intent” to build the estimated $3.5 billion, 263-mile pipeline.

The network, in testimony prepared by New Mexico lawyer Simeon Herskovits, maintains “there is no genuine, legitimate need for the water that SNWA seeks to export from the targeted valleys.”

The network says the authority “has an unreasonable and inadequate water conservation program, given SNWA’s position and available option.”

The network says the Las Vegas area has “failed to implement a number of readily available low-cost water conservation measures and policies that would achieve water savings substantial enough to satisfy most or all of the supposed future demands for additional water.”

Officials with the Cleveland-Rogers Ranch, owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, believe plans by the Water Authority would threaten the White Pine County ranch’s water rights. In testimony prepared by Severin Carlson, a Reno attorney, and Paul Hejmanowski, a Las Vegas lawyer, the church says granting the water rights would hinder “its ability to survive as a viable ranching enterprise.”

The Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation also have submitted a pre-filed opening statement, saying the evidence will show the devastating effect the water plan would have.

The testimony, prepared by Paul Echohawk, an Idaho lawyer, says the abundance of clean water from the springs is important in the Spring Valley. “This area is held in reverence by the Goshute people and it is a sacred site to them.”

The area is used for festivals and other social, religious and economic activities, the tribe says.

Las Vegas originally applied in 1989 for the right to pump water from the area. The Nevada Supreme Court, however, voided the ruling of former engineer Tracy Taylor, which permitted 58,000 acre-feet to be transferred.

The hearings will recess Oct. 14, reconvene Oct. 31 and continue to Nov. 17 to hear protests. Closing arguments will be Nov. 18, then King will make the decision.

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