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McEntee: Herbert's 'my hero' — Snake Valley rancher says it all

Published April 4, 2013 6:42 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Bravo, governor. Under intense pressure, you did the right thing.

After a trip to Snake Valley last month, Gov. Gary Herbert on Wednesday rejected a long-standing and much-debated proposal that would have drained billions of gallons of water into Nevada, all for the benefit of Las Vegas.

He could not reconcile the needs of the ranchers, farmers and tribal members in one of the West's most beautiful places with a multibillion-dollar pipeline that could have left Snake Valley and other valleys so dangerously dry that the Wasatch Front itself could suffer from dust storms and pollution even worse than the ones we have now.

It took that trip and meeting with "the good people who live in western Utah — those most affected by the outcome" — for Herbert to conclude that he couldn't ignore what those residents could not support.

Cecil Garland is a tough old cowman from Callao. For years, he's been among many ardent protectors of the land and its aquifers, where water dating from the ice age mingles with drainage from the Deep Creek Range just to the west and the Confusion Range to the east.

"You know, somehow or another, you work at something so hard, and you want it so strongly, that when it does or doesn't come about, you say, 'Well, I did the best I knew how, and this is the way it is,' " Garland told me Wednesday.

"The pressures on Herbert were enormous. Few of us will ever understand that," Garland said. "In my opinion, he is a hero. He's my hero. … He stood up and said and did the right thing."

Critics of the proposed 385-mile, potentially $15 million pipeline that would feed Las Vegas have pointed to California's Owens Valley and the Owens River. In the early 1900s, that river was diverted into a 250-mile aqueduct headed straight for Los Angeles. Even today, the Owens Valley is prone to dust storms of the kind that could have swept across Snake Valley and on to Utah's metropolitan areas.

In a news release, members of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment said they "sincerely and without reservation thank the governor for taking this action to protect the health of Utah residents."

As for me, it's been nearly four years since I visited Garland. That day, he served lunch made from his own beef, vegetables, milk and butter. We toured his ranch, checking out the greasewood, the peat bogs, his cattle and the pronghorns that leap over his fences.

On Wednesday, Garland invited me to come back, and I told him I would. Now that Snake Valley is safe — at least for now — that's a promise I intend to keep.

Peg McEntee is a news columnist. Reach her at pegmcentee@sltrib.com, facebook.com/pegcmentee and Twitter, @Peg McEntee.