Monday, March 30, 2009 | 7:02 p.m.
The Southern Nevada Water Authority sent a letter Monday afternoon to the State Engineer asking that hearings on the Water Authority's right to pump water from Snake Valley be postponed a year.
The hearings were supposed to begin Sept. 29 and last through much of the month of October. They were expected to be contentious, with fierce opposition from farmers, ranchers and conservationists from affected Nevada and Utah counties.
The Water Authority has asked to pump more than 50,000 acre feet -- about 16 billion gallons -- of water a year from the valley that lies about 250 miles north of Las Vegas in Nevada and across the Utah border.
The agency already has received permission from the state engineer's office to pump 40,000 acre feet from Spring Valley and 18,755 acre feet from Cave, Dry Lake and Delamar valleys to provide Las Vegas water that the Authority says may be needed in the event of a prolonged drought. An acre foot of water is equivalent to 325,851 gallons.
The Water Authority would like to postpone the Snake Valley hearings because it will not be able to complete in time a computer model that shows the impact of the water removal, Deputy General Manager Kay Brothers said in the letter sent Monday.
The problem, said Water Authority spokesman J.C. Davis, is that the same model is being developed for the Water Authority's application to the Bureau of Land Management. BLM has been slow to respond to questions the Water Authority needs answered in order to proceed with the model, Davis said.
"We thought we could get this model done in time, but you have to send out parameters for review and it's just gotten bogged down at the BLM," Davis said. "As a result, we don't have this product built. We can't finish it until they tell us what they want and it's taking a lot longer than we want."
According to Davis, if the request is granted it will not impact the project because the Water Authority expects the BLM environmental review process to take longer than the State Engineer process, even with the delay.
"We can't build anything until we're done with the Environmental Impact Statement anyway," Davis said. "It's not going to hold up the show if we get this continuance."
Groups opposed to the $3.5 billion pipeline project had been rapidly working to assemble experts and hone their strategy in time for the September hearings.
"We thought we had a really, really good case for the September hearings based on the credibility and strength of the experts we had assembled," said Launce Rake, spokesman for the Progressive Leadership Alliance. "I don't think in the end a delay is going to make a big difference."
But Rake viewed the request as a sign that the opposition's perspective may be gaining some ground.
"I think there's an indication that there are second thoughts about the whole project," he said.