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Water authority gets OK to pump rural water to Las Vegas

Updated Thursday, March 22, 2012 | 7:19 p.m.

CARSON CITY - State Engineer Jason King has ruled that the Southern Nevada Water Authority can pump 83,988 acre feet of water a year from four rural counties to supply Las Vegas — less than the amount the agency had requested.

King said the water would allow the Las Vegas Valley to continue to grow while not turning the rural valleys in Lincoln and White Pine counties into a dust bowl, as opponents claimed. He said the ruling will not prove detrimental to the public interest or the environment.

The ruling follows six weeks of hearings last year and testimony from 84 witnesses. King said the water authority justified its need for the water while demonstrating its willingess to conserve. The water authority reduced its annual water consumption by 21 billion gallons despite a growth of 400,000 residents. Growth in the Las Vegas Valley will not be limited with the added water, he said.

The authority had initially asked for 125,976 acre feet but lowered its request to 104,856 acre feet from Spring Valley, Cave Valley, Dry Lake Valley and Delamar Valley in Eastern Nevada. An acre foot is 325,851 gallons.

Ranchers, environmentalists and businesses filed more than 2,000 protests against the application. The opponents labeled the agency's request a "water grab" and some suggested the water authority should instead desalinize and pump water from the Pacific Ocean to Las Vegas.

Scott Huntley of the water authority called the ruling "reasonable and conservative." The decision "is driven by science and law and we're pleased with that," he said.

An ecologist with the Center for Biological Diversity, said taking the water will dry up springs, creeks and upland plant communities in rural Nevada. The winner in the ruling "is mindless Las Vegas growth," ecologist Rob Mrowka said.

There was no immediate comment from the Great Basin Network, one of the main opponents. A spokesman said they had not had time to read the decision of more than 200 pages.

King said four water applications were denied in Spring Valley due to potential impacts to existing water rights. The Spring Valley will only be permitted to be pumped in stages. Approvals will not conflict with existing rights or protectable interests in domestic wells, he said.

The state engineer allowed the water authority to draw 61,127 acre feet a year from Spring Valley. But the ruling permits only 38,000 acre feet over the first eight years. Then an additional 12,000 acre feet will be permitted during the next eight years and the remainder can be pumped later depending on biological and hydrological data gathered in two year periods.

In addition, there will be studies of the groundwater flow and mitigation in each basin before any pumping begins.

The ruling granted the water authority permission to pump 5,235 acre-feet annually from Cave Valley; 11,584 acre feet from Dry Lake Valley and 6,042 acre feet a year from Delamar Valley

The initial cost for construction of the proposed 263 mile pipeline to carry water from rural Nevada to Las Vegas is estimated at $3.5 billion, but could climb as high as $7.3 billion with inflation and up to $15.4 billion to cover financing costs.

Water authority officials said, however, that under the worst-case scenario, the average user's water bill would rise $30 per month.

King said if there are unanticipated impacts to existing water rights, the water authority will be required to take any and all measures, including the curtailment of pumping to solve the problems.

This is the second time the state has issued a ruling on the water authority's applications. The Nevada Supreme Court in 2010 ordered the prior applications be re-heard by the state engineer.

Leo Drozdoff, director of the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, which oversees King's division, said there was greater data collection and use of enhanced scientific techniques by both sides in this hearing.

But in the end Drozdoff said the findings are very similar to those in prior years, "which reinforces the sound nature of the state engineer's conclusion to date about these valleys."

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  1. Well,.. how else do you suppose water CEO Pat Tilmann and her investors would be able to enjoy all the benefits this windfall will give them.

    They know they're gonna ride this cash-cow for all it's worth with the pipeline construction costs escalating year after year from now to eternity.

    This is an excellent charade and I salute Mrs. Tilmann for pulling it off.

  2. 1. Economically, this would appear to be the Kiss of Death for the plan. $476,000/acre foot in capital cost (not counting inflation, cost overruns, or interest) is far from a bargain. And, water draw-down can be cut at any time, so it isn't even a reliable supply. But we will be taking on $3.5 Billion to $15 Billion of Debt and payments for that unreliable supply.

    This is Jefferson County, Alabama all over again. The whole county had to declare bankruptcy because it overreached, or got swindled by its investment banks, depending on who is telling the story, on a project which got built but not used. (NLV writ large.)

    2. We need a reliable supply of water to take care of existing homes and businesses. We can't count on filling an inside straight every year to get enough water out of the Colorado.

    3. Who is CEO Ms. Pat Tilmann? Pat Tillman, deceased, was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan. The LVVWD General Manager is Ms. Pat Mulroy. And, the LVVWD has no "investors" other than Clark County. Its' Board of Directors are Clark County Commissioners.

    4. Let's put this in some perspective: California spent $4.3 Billion in capital costs for a system which can deliver 1500 Acre/Feet of water per hour to SoCal from NorCal. That volume of water in one month would be 2x the water the proposed NE Nv pipeline could deliver to Las Vegas over a whole year. And it would cost 90% of the California Aqueduct. The California Aqueduct covers about twice the distance with about twice the elevation gain as would an aqueduct built from the Gulf of California to Las Vegas, so a Las Vegas - Gulf of California Aqueduct would be well within existing, known engineering capabilities. The only controversial point is the cost of the desalinated water.

  3. I can hardly wait for the fireworks to start when they start to build this "pipeline." There are folks up there that certainly have the means to disrupt that project at every turn. Watch the cost overruns on that!

    Once again the greed and growth crowd win out this legal battle. We should be planning for SUSTAINABLE growth, not continued free for all thinking there are no consequences. Good grief.

    Taking Central Nevada's water will only create more desolation and desperation for our fellow Nevadans. SHAME SHAME SHAME

    Where are the People who possess a conscience?

    Blessings and Peace,

  4. Anyone surprised?

    One of the great intra-Nevada fights has just been "won" by Clark County to the detriment of everyone else.

    There are millions of federal and state acres in Northern counties which could be developed for copper, gold, silver, winter wheat, alfalfa and cattle -- to name but a few of Nevada's legacy industries.

    Alas, no one since Paul Laxalt has really done much to secure the development of this critical Nevada resource -- it's land.

    Indeed, there are 680,000 acres of Federal lands which were previously designated for sale by the BLM, but where careful obstruction by Federal and Southern Nevada officials has prevented the land from every being sold. Why? Because if the land is paired with water to pursue industry, the water is no longer available for the SNWA to grab.

    Dean Baker of White Pine County said he would never stop fighting for his water. I hope the LDS Church listens to him and does the same. It and other ranchers will regret the day they give up this fight if they do.

    If Las Vegas wants to grow at this rate with an unpaired source of water, then CLARK COUNTY needs to invest the capital to find deep aquifer water in its area -- not take it away from other, rural areas of the state without compensation.

    What is this going to do for Lincoln, White Pine, and other Counties implicated by the big pipe to feed the thirst of Las Vegas? Is there going to be a big deployment of capital in these rural counties and towns? Of course not.

    So welcome to Nevada. The Capital isn't Carson City -- in case you hadn't noticed -- it's Las Vegas where what's mine is mine and what's yours is mine, too.

  5. What really blows my mind, is that right next door to Las Vegas, Pahrump, has PLENTY of water due to an aquifer that originates from Mount Shasta, California. The water table there in Pahrump, is so huge, that in most places throughout Pahrump, the water is at the surface soil, causing construction issues with putting foundations for any buildings.

    There has been virtually zero conversation about building a pipeline to access all this water! Just saying....

    Blessings and Peace,

  6. For those uninformed.....water supply to aquifers is NOT FINITE. They discharge and RECHARGE. This seems like a very sound ruling. So much of Southern Nevada water has been NEGOTIATED to California, we would have ended up in the same condition as now, even with a smaller amount of growth. If you dont like the idea of borrowing water from the northern part of the state to keep our needs supplied, and projected growth, which means money and jobs to an economy that needs it, really do not care about a recovery here. Become educated in hydrology/hydrogeology, THEN tell me what a bad bad plan this is.

  7. Another $ 30.00 Dollars a Month on our water Bills so Las Vegas can "Continue To Grow". How about shifting the cost entirely to the Developers that want to Build. This is nothing more than a Welfare Check to Developers paid for by existing residents.
    Las Vegas continues to do everything it can to make itself uncompetitive to attract high wage earning jobs.

    A 7 Billion Dollar Pipeline (assuming Worst Case and we have no reason to expect otherwise) is a $ 7,000.00 Tax Bill for One Million Households.

    We would be better off taking half of that and using it as subsidies to help people move out to better paying jobs elsewhere. Or Funding Students University Education Out Of State.

    As I've mentioned before, Freeze All residential construction OR start charging developers in the Tens of Thousands of Dollars per Water Meter to make Them Pay for their Impact to the Community. Send these Welfare Queen Developers elsewhere.

  8. Wow, I guess I had better go see Ely and the surrounding country before they destroy it. The bottom land is in for subsiding levels and disappearing creeks and small streams and lakes. I wonder how Cave Lake will look when it is just Cave? When Mule Shoe's underlying water table shrinks?

    Those wells and alfala fields down by Pioche may be in for a shock.

    This really will throw a monkeywrench into the area south of Ely...lots of long stretches to watch.