Las Vegas Sun

October 20, 2019

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Environmental group, opposed to pipeline, suggests ways to solve Las Vegas water woes

An environmental group says tighter conservation restrictions and limiting development areas in the Las Vegas Valley should be imposed rather than siphoning water from rural Nevada to serve the growing urban needs in Southern Nevada.

The Great Basin Water Network argues that the allocation of Colorado River water should be revised to take care of population areas rather than sending it to non-essential agricultural pursuits.

The news release Wednesday comes on the heels of a brief filed Monday by the Nevada Attorney General’s Office asking a district court to uphold the decision to permit 83,900 acre-feet of water to be pumped from rural counties to the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

The network said other alternatives should be adopted rather than supporting the “bank-breaking pipeline,” estimated to cost $15.5 billion.

Rob Mrowka, a board member of the network from Las Vegas, said the drought ordinances adopted by local governments in 2003 should be enforced. For instance, he said water flows down the gutters in Las Vegas without issuance of citations. And fountains outside the Strip are now permitted to pump water.

The network called on Congress to stop releasing BLM land for development in Southern Nevada. In 2002, the Congress passed legislation to permit 50,000 acres of public lands to be developed.

It wants the secretary of the Interior Department to start the negotiations to reallocate the Colorado River water, of which the Southern Nevada Water Authority receives 300,000 acre-feet.

Mrowka said California receives 4.5 million acre-feet, most of which goes for watering non-essential crops such as cotton. The division of the water should be geared toward urban areas, he said.

Abby Johnson, chairwoman of the network in Reno, said, “The river is severely overallocated under a series of outdated laws and agreements."

The network says the Colorado River has been designated as one of the nation’s most endangered rivers and climate change will decrease flows 10 to 30 percent as soon as 2050.

Steve Erickson, a board member of the network from Salt Lake City, complained that piping the water from the four valleys in rural Nevada will drain “ancient aquifers in Nevada and Utah of their limited waters to quench unsustainable growth in Las Vegas.”

The state, in its brief filed in district court in Ely, said the findings by state engineer Jason King “are supported by substantial evidence, which consists of the most credible and best science currently available and must be affirmed.”

The Water Authority originally sought 126,000 acre-feet but then reduced its application to 105,000 acre-feet. An acre-foot of water is equivalent to 325,851 gallons of water, or enough to serve a family of four or five for a year.

A court hearing is set for June 13 in Ely for opponents to overturn the water decision.

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