Las Vegas Sun

October 1, 2022

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Rural Nevada vs. Las Vegas: Battle over water advances

CARSON CITY — Plans to build a 263-mile pipeline to siphon millions of gallons of water a year from rural Nevada to Las Vegas have drawn protests from a diverse group that includes the Mormon church and the Goshute Indians.

The pumping would lead to streams and springs drying up and existing water rights being damaged, according to pre-filed testimony of the Great Basin Water Network, which represents more than 200 individuals and groups.

But the Las Vegas Valley Water District says there is sufficient water in the four valleys, and pumping water wouldn’t damage White Pine or Lincoln counties. The district says that despite major conservation efforts, it needs additional water to handle future growth.

Several parties filed prehearing testimony Friday with the state engineer’s office, which will begin hearings Sept. 26 on the Water District’s application to draw up to 126,000 acre-feet. An acre-foot equals nearly 326,000 gallons, enough water to supply a family of four for a year.

The latest estimates put the cost of the project at $3.5 billion.

Jeremy Aguero, of Applied Analysis, said a water shortage in the Las Vegas area “would severely undermine the region’s ability to attract new industries, organizations and residents or garner additional investment by existing business.”

The resort industry is dependent on water for use by guests and in swimming pools, golf courses and landscaping. A shortage of water could lead to a 1 percent decline in tourists and cost the gaming industry $163 million in net revenue annually, Aguero said in his testimony.

John Bredehoeft, a hydrologist hired by the Great Basin Network, said the pumping would deplete the water storage in eastern Nevada, adding that the region wouldn’t be able to recover.

“Large drawdowns will be created over very large areas: streams, springs and (deep-rooted plants) will be eliminated and wells will go dry,” he said in his testimony.

The Water District says the Colorado River supplies 90 percent of Southern Nevada’s water and will continue to experience serious drought conditions.

As part of a conservation program, the Water District said it reduced annual consumption by nearly 21 billion gallons from 2002 to 2008 despite a population increase of 400,000 during that period.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints owns a large area of private property, grazing permits and a multitude of water rights in north Spring Valley. The church said it is protesting because it fears the groundwater pumping could hurt water sources that are crucial to livestock operation.

The Goshute Indians worry about the accessibility of cattle to streams, ponds and spring sources.

The Bureau of Land Management filed its draft environmental impact report last month, saying the project would disturb 12,300 acres during construction, but 11,300 would be reclaimed.

The project would alter the ranges or habitats of antelope, elk, mule deer, desert bighorn sheep, desert tortoises, pygmy rabbits, the western burrowing owl, bald eagles, golden eagles, the dark kangaroo mouse, the Gila monster and the Mojave poppy bee.

The BLM said there would be short-term interference with hunting access.

Although construction is outside Great Basin National Park, it could also be affected, the federal agency said.

The BLM stressed it wanted public comment on the draft report so it can write a final environmental statement.

The Water District wants to pump 91,220 acre-feet a year from Spring Valley and 34,750 from the Cave, Dry Lake and Delamar valleys.

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