Wharton: Selfish reasons to oppose Nevada water deal
Published: June 18, 2013 04:44PM
Updated: June 18, 2013 02:47PM
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Tribune File Photo Lake Powell.

Most of us are selfish. We view the world through a prism of what helps us get through life.

I thought about this recently when reading a story about how Utah water barons such as Washington County Water Conservancy District general manager Ron Thompson are critical of Gov. Gary Herbert for vetoing a water-sharing agreement with Nevada over underground water in Snake Valley that straddles the two states.

The veto concerns Thompson because of fears that Nevada water barons will make it more difficult for southern Utah interests to build a 139-mile pipeline from Lake Powell.

Call me selfish, but I support the governor 100 percent on this issue.

First, I like to breathe. As someone with late-onset asthma, winter inversions already raise havoc with my lungs. If Las Vegas is allowed to mine underground aquifers from the West Desert, the chances of it becoming a dust bowl are great. When that happens, scientists say prevailing winds will blow much of that dust into our already polluted valley.

Second, as someone who owns homes in both Utah and southern Nevada, having water to drink and being able to take a shower is a good thing. I know I am part of the growth problem in both places. But I am not convinced that the Colorado River system that provides water to the Wasatch Front through the Central Utah Project, to Las Vegas and, if Thompson’s pipeline pipe dream were to get built, to St. George, is up to the task of fueling even more desert development.

I get it that water managers in southern Utah and Nevada know they need to plan ahead for future growth of folks like me who insist on living there at least part-time. But what if Las Vegas bases its growth on the Snake Valley aquifer and it dries up? What if Utah finances that Lake Powell pipeline and due to climate change or good old-fashioned drought, there just isn’t enough Colorado River water to keep Lake Powell full?

When are developers and political leaders going to wise up to the fact that perhaps desert cities such as Phoenix, St. George, Las Vegas and, yes, even Salt Lake City may have to eventually limit growth and new home building because there simply isn’t enough water to sustain them? We see that now in Little Cottonwood Canyon where Alta and Salt Lake City are limiting development by not allowing any more water hookups.

I confess to being a golfer who enjoys playing in Mesquite and St. George, especially during the winter. But we may some day come to the point where the developers of those courses will have to choose between golf or more homes and businesses.

I’m selfish, too, because I’m not crazy about paying taxes for water boondoggles such as the St. George Lake Powell pipeline when I’m already paying for the Central Utah Project. Besides, St. George doesn’t seem much interested in trying conservation first.

Finally, as I’ve grown older, the wide open spaces of Utah’s west desert help sustain my need to know there are places filled with emptiness. There are roads I can drive and maybe see less than a handful of other people in a day. Places such as Fish Springs National Wildlife Refuge, the Bonneville Salt Flats, Great Basin National Park, the Great Salt Lake and the Pony Express Trail provide open lands for wildlife and people.

For example, the Great Basin National Park website said that the 48 miles of perennial streams and 400 springs in the south Snake Valley area sustain 75 percent of the area’s wildlife, not to mention the few ranchers who eke out a living there. I also find it amazing that the underground water Las Vegas wants to mine may have fallen as precipitation thousands of years ago.

So, call me selfish. But I don’t want to fuel unsustainable desert urban growth with a project that might make it more difficult for me to breathe and ruin some of the West’s great open landscapes. And I don’t want to pay taxes to build what could very well be a useless pipeline from Lake Powell to St. George.

wharton@sltrib.com

Twitter @tribtomwharton