Water rights deal to be signed at Native American Summit
Proponents say agreement with Goshutes means protection from Las Vegas pipeline.
Published: August 15, 2012 08:16AM
Updated: November 30, 2012 11:32PM
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Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune Howard Rainer speaks during the 7th annual Native American summit at the Sheraton in Salt Lake City on Tuesday -- with an estimated 650 in attendance. Rainer is a Taos Pueblo-Creek Indian from Taos Pueblo, New Mexico.

Gov. Gary Herbert and a Native American tribe will sign a memorandum of understanding Wednesday that binds them together in an attempt to secure water rights for the group in western Utah.

The Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation hopes the agreement between its approximately 500 members and the state will provide water security to help the group develop the more than 110,000 acres that sit in Juab and Tooele counties on the Utah side and through White Pine County in Nevada.

Lt. Gov. Greg Bell said serious discussions about entering into the memorandum of understanding came when he traveled with Herbert in late June to the Goshute Reservation to discuss the issue.

“They’ve got a lot of ground and not a lot of water,” Bell said. “If they can develop it, that can make a real difference for them.”

The announcement will be made at the second day of the 7th Annual Native American Summit in Salt Lake City. The summit, which began Tuesday and featured more that 650 registered participants, included a slide show about some of the water concerns felt by the Confederated Tribes of Goshute Reservation.

Tribe Chairman Ed Naranjo said the need to secure the water rights stemmed from the tribe’s battle with the Southern Nevada Water Authority, which is taking steps to build a pipeline that will pump 83,000 acre-feet of water from those rural areas to Las Vegas.

That $15.5 billion project is in the midst of a 60-day “availability period,” which began Aug. 3 and followed a comment period where opponents — including the Confederated Tribes of Goshute Reservation — argued against it.

Naranjo said he felt “minds were already made up” when they bused in people to Carson City to fight the proposal.

Penny Woods, a Bureau of Land Management project coordinator, said there are many steps that must be completed before construction could begin on the pipeline. She said the agency still has surveys to review and a right of way would need to be issued — along with detailed plans on transportation and safety.

She said one of the concerns raised during the plans review was the drawing of underground water from the Snake Valley. Woods said under the BLM’s preferred alternative, water can’t be pulled from that area.

But she said the preferred alternatives aren’t binding.

“We’re not making any promises that’s what we will select,” Woods said. “The agency doesn’t have an obligation to choose it. There could be more refinements.”

There isn’t a memorandum of understanding between the Confederated Tribes of Goshute Reservation and Nevada — though Naranjo said the tribe made that proposal and that Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval “politely declined.”

Sandoval’s office didn’t return a call or email for comment Tuesday.

Naranjo said the water rights are important to development on the reservation. He said the tribe would like to get a hydroelectric plant or water bottling plant in place, but businesses won’t relocate to a place where the water rights aren’t secured.

He also said it would hamper development and deter growth on the reservation — currently home to about 150 tribe members.

He said the memorandum of understanding is a way for the tribe to look toward the future.

“It’s for the children who aren’t born yet,” he said. “We have to take care of them.”

dmontero@sltrib.comTwitter: @davemontero

Online

See the Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation presentation on water: http://www.goshutewater.org/index.php/goshute-tribe.html