Las Vegas Sun

May 28, 2015

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Clash over rural water grab enters another chapter

Las Vegas squares off again next week in the continuing water battle with two rural counties, Native American tribes, the Mormon Church in Salt Lake City, environmental groups and scores of ranchers and farmers.

Senior District Judge Robert Estes will hear two days of arguments in Ely beginning Thursday on the decision of state Engineer Jason King to grant permission to the Southern Nevada Water Authority to pump nearly 84,000 acre-feet of water from four valleys to serve the expected growing population of the Las Vegas area.

Simeon Herskovits, the attorney representing the protesters, says the King decision would have “devastating effects on senior water right holders, the environment and the communities in the region.”

But Senior Deputy Attorney General Bryan Stockton says the March 2012 King decision is based on “credible scientific evidence” gathered during six weeks of hearings in 2011.

Whatever way Estes rules, the case is expected to end up in the Nevada Supreme Court for a second time.

There won’t be any testimony, only arguments by attorneys for both sides during the two-day hearing.

In his 344-page decision, King said the evidence showed the pumping of water to Las Vegas will not dry up the ranch and farm lands, will not result in dust storms, and will not hinder economic development.

He rejected the arguments of some that Las Vegas is already big enough and water should not be sent there to serve a growing population. And he ruled the water transfer would not harm existing rights.

The ruling allows 61,127 acre-feet a year to be piped from Spring Valley, which lies in White Pine and Lincoln counties. King said before any water can be exported, the Southern Nevada Water Authority must conduct two years of biological and hydrologic studies to monitor the water. The pumping would occur in stages to determine if there were any adverse impacts.

The state engineer permitted 11,584 acre-feet to be exported from Dry Lake Valley and 6,042 acre-feet from Delamar Valley, both in Lincoln County and 5,235 acre-feet a year from Cave Valley, which is in both White Pine and Lincoln counties.

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

There was testimony that the 300-mile pipeline would cost an estimated $15 billion. But everything is on hold until the courts rule.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is protesting because it owns a “substantial amount of property, grazing permits on three public land grazing allotments and a multitude of water rights in north Spring Valley.”

The initial application to the state was filed for 126,000 acre-feet in 1989 but that was scaled back to 105,000 acre-feet.

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