Pipeline pipe dream
Referring to the groundwater found in western Utah and eastern Nevada as a "renewable" resource, as the person in charge of finding ever more water for the fountains and golf courses of Las Vegas does, is like calling the Utah Legislature a Democratic stronghold.
It rains in the desert sometimes. And the Democratic Party has not been completely swept from the Utah Capitol. But counting on the strength of either one in the foreseeable future would be a hope devoid of realism.
That is why last week's decision by the Bureau of Land Management to allow construction of a mammoth pipeline that would draw billions of gallons of water from the dry basins of eastern Nevada and pipe it 263 miles south to Las Vegas is just what one of the plan's environmentalist activists called it: "Pure folly."
Officially, the ruling only allows the Southern Nevada Water Authority to pipe groundwater in Nevada, to which the water utility already has rights. The ruling specifically excludes, for now, water that SNWA has its eyes on in the Snake Valley area that straddles the Utah-Nevada border, water that Utah Gov. Gary Herbert has been asked to sign away.
But the approval of the pipeline rightly raises alarm bells for those who are worried that there is nothing to stop the water hogs of the Sin City from getting their way. And it makes it harder for Utah, or any authority that might be asked to resolve any disputes between the states, to deny Las Vegas access to Snake Valley water.
Because the water Las Vegas wants is underground, it might seem there is nothing to be lost by allowing its plans to go forward. But even the environmental impact statement attached to the BLM's pipeline approval contains a long and scary list of negative side-effects.
Even if the water that Utah has rights to isn't technically taken away even if the pipeline draws water only from aquifers on the Nevada side removing so much water from an interconnected system runs a very high risk of irrevocably damaging the whole delicate ecosystem.
Drawing water from well below the surface of an arid land not only threatens human activities such as ranching and recreation. It also runs a high risk of so upsetting the subterranean environment that what water remains will fall far below the reach of wells, streams and plants. The land itself could collapse, and huge amounts of dust could blow away, much of it into the already clogged air of the Salt Lake Valley.
All to keep a city built in the desert artificially green. It is time that Utah, and the federal government, stopped playing pigeons for the water sharpies of Las Vegas.