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September 2, 2015

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State ruling on rural water is challenged in court

Opponents say a state ruling permitting nearly 84,000 acre-feet of water to be pumped from rural Nevada to Las Vegas will jeopardize ranching, farming, mining, recreational activities and even interfere with worship at burial and other sacred Indian sites.

Four counties, more than 300 individuals and numerous environmental groups filed district court lawsuits in Ely and Pioche, challenging the decision state Engineer Jason King made in March.

The suits were filed by Simeon Herskovits, a New Mexico attorney representing the many groups including the Great Basin Water Network, one of the lead opponents of the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

The suits challenging the water pumping ruling in each of the four counties, said the King ruling will cause dust problems, will damage hunting, fishing, bird and wildlife watching, and will interrupt existing water rights.

The state ruling allowed the water authority to draw 61,127 acre-feet a year from Spring Valley over a period of time. It permits 5,235 acre-feet to be taken annually from Cave Valley; 11,584 acre-feet from Dry Lake Valley and 6,042 from Delamar Valley.

An acre-foot equal 325,851 gallons, enough to serve two single-family homes for a year.

J.C. Davis of the Southern Nevada Water Authority said it was no surprise that suits were filed but he believes the findings of the state engineer will be upheld because of his exhaustive research.

This water right, said Davis, involves a safety net for seven in 10 Nevadans and the two-thirds of the economy of the state. And it will help the state in its economic recovery, said Davis, who added it was more important now due to the severe drought in the Rocky Mountains, where Las Vegas gets a major share of its water.

Herskovits says in his suits that the state engineer grossly overestimated the amount of water available in the four valleys and that his ruling "is unsupported by substantial evidence in the record, contrary to law, and was arbitrarily, capriciously and irrationally derived,"

Susan Lynn, coordinator with the Great Basin Water Network, said the ruling of the state engineer "would set a precedent that one big city and a few narrow business interests can trample over the economic and environmental future of many rural communities and a huge area of the county."

The proposed export of the water limits the future growth of the rural areas, says the suit. It argues the Southern Nevada Water Authority "has failed to prove there is a genuine need for the water sought to be imported."

The water authority said it needs the water for future growth. But the opponents argue that growth has slowed in Southern Nevada.

Herskovits said the water authority "has failed to prove that it has the good-faith intention, financial ability, and reasonable expectation to actually construct the work and apply the water to the intended use."

The initial cost for construction of the proposed 263-mile pipeline is $3.5 billion, but that could climb to $7.3 billion with inflation and up to $15.4 billion to cover financing costs. Water authorities said the average user's water bill would rise $30 a month under the worst-case scenario.

The counties filing suit were White Pine, Lincoln, Elko and Eureka. Others joining the litigation included the Sierra Club, the League of Women Voters of Salt Lake City, Indian tribes and the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada.

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