Las Vegas Sun

December 5, 2019

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Clark County changes public lands bill language to avoid link to water pipeline

Sloan Canyon Petroglyph Canyon Trail

Wade Vandervort

A black-tailed jackrabbit is seen near the Petroglyph Canyon Trail at the Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area south of Las Vegas, Monday, July 15, 2019.

Responding to concerns raised by groups opposing the proposed Las Vegas water pipeline, Clark County has modified language in its draft public lands bill to clarify that the bill does not advance the water pipeline.

The Clark County Commission sent a letter Wednesday announcing the changes to members of Nevada’s federal delegation and the organizations, tribes and governmental bodies critical of the previous language.

Sections 702 and 703 of the draft public lands bill, which refer to rights-of-way for the construction of power lines to transmit renewable energy, now explicitly state that they shall not be construed as granting rights-of-way for the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s pipeline project, officially known as the Groundwater Development Project.

Signed by County Commission Chair Marilyn Kirkpatrick, the letter states that the commissioner believed the initial language was sufficiently clear but offers the revisions to make it “absolutely clear” that Sections 702 and 703 have no connection to any groundwater development projects.

“The only intention is to just clarify the language,” said Kevin MacDonald, spokesperson for the Clark County Department of Air Quality, which is spearheading the public lands bill.

Officially called the Southern Nevada Economic Development and Conservation Act, the draft federal public lands bill was approved by the county commission last spring and has been modified many times since then. The latest version of the bill reflecting the new language in Sections 702 and 703 will soon be made publicly available, MacDonald said.

If introduced by a member of Nevada’s congressional delegation and approved by Congress, the bill would broadly create new conservation areas in Clark County and expand the county’s developmental boundaries.

The old language in Sections 702 and 703 was condemned by environmental organizations, including Great Basin Water Network, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club Toiyabe Chapter, because of its reference to a previously-granted right of way and environmental assessment for the water authority’s water pipeline. County governments that oppose the pipeline project, such as the Salt Lake County Council, as well as well Native American tribes that say they would be impacted by the pipeline also criticized the previous bill language.

A representative from the Salt Lake County Council said he wasn’t sure if the body had seen the revisions to the lands bill. Spokespeople from the Duckwater Shoshone Tribe, one of the tribes that publicly opposed the old language, were not immediately available to discuss the changes.

Kyle Roerink, executive director of Great Basin Water Network, said he couldn’t comment yet on the new draft bill.

The changes to the bill language were announced on the same day as an appeals hearing for the water authority’s proposed water pipeline. First proposed in 1989, the pipeline project would pump groundwater from rural Eastern Nevada to Las Vegas through a series of buried pipelines. It has been stalled in the courts for years.

Senior District Judge Robert Estes, who heard appeals Tuesday and Wednesday at the 7th Judicial District Court in Ely, is expected to make a ruling in the next few months, said Carol Fielding, an administrative judicial assistant at the courthouse.

It is unclear at this point when the public lands bill will be introduced in Congress.