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State of the Debate
George Pyle
George Pyle has been a newspaper writer in Kansas, Utah, Upstate New York, and now Utah again, for more than 30 years - most of it as an editorial writer and columnist. Now on his second tour of duty on The Salt Lake Tribune Editorial Board, he has also done a stretch as a talk radio host, published a book on the ongoing flaws of U.S.agricultural policy and, in 1998, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Writing. His most active bookmarks are Andrew Sullivan, Christopher Hitchens and Tina Brown. And he still thinks the Internet can be used for intelligent conversation and uplifting ideas.

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(Brian Maffly | Tribune file photo) Dave Baker, a third-generation Snake Valley rancher, looks at the Stateline Spring which is a critical source of water for farmers and ranchers near the towns of Baker, Nev., and Utah's Garrison and EskDale. The Utah Water Development Commission on Tuesday voted to ask Gov. Gary Herbert to reconsider his rejection of an agreement with Nevada that would equally divide the Snake Valley aquifer's water between the two states.
An editorial is a terrible thing to waste ...

This editorial was posted on the Opinion section of sltrib.com about 1:15 p.m. today. A few minutes later, tweets started flowing with the news that Utah Gov. Gary Herbert had just done what this editorial was telling him he should do: Reject the Snake Valley water deal with Nevada.

The updated editorial is here

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But it's still a good editorial. So, here's to what might have been:

Snake Valley: Herbert must not sign water deal

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Pat Mulroy is an effective saleswoman. She speaks with authority, and she is persuasive. But what the head of the Southern Nevada Water Authority is selling is fear, and Gov. Gary Herbert should not buy it.

Mulroy has threatened Utah with what smells like blackmail. She says that if Herbert does not go along with her proposal to siphon groundwater from beneath the valleys on the Utah-Nevada state line and pipe it to Las Vegas, she will stonewall any future Utah water project involving Colorado River water.

Further, if she can’t eventually get her hands on the water beneath Utah’s Snake Valley with this ill-advised agreement, she will snatch it from under adjacent Nevada valleys. If that irresponsible action affects Utah’s aquifers, air quality, agriculture or anything else, she’s clearly stated it would be no concern of hers.

But it’s already clear in its arguments that Utah’s interests do not concern the SNWA. Mulroy says the proposal to build a 285-mile pipeline to take water from the interconnected aquifers beneath the state line would not dry up the land, kill the vegetation, ruin ranchers and create a dust bowl that would worsen the already unhealthy air along the Wasatch Front.

Mulroy says that taking water from the "bottom" of the underground aquifer would not affect surface water. Imagine drinking from a straw with one end at the bottom of a glass of water and expecting the level at the top to stay constant.

But Mulroy expects people to believe this tale, despite warnings from scientists.

In exchange for Herbert’s signature, SNWA offers a promise that if the pipeline project were to damage Utah aquifers and the fragile land above, it would turn off the tap to thousands of southern Nevada homes and businesses that, by then, would be dependant on the water. Keeping that promise is simply not going to happen.

At that point, Nevada, unlike Utah, would not hesitate to present a case in court that the water was necessary for survival of the Las Vegas metropolis. Even before water began to flow, Nevada’s investment in the billion-dollar pipeline would make the project virtually unstoppable.

Utah should not bow to threats or gamble on the validity of iffy promises. To do so would be to sell our heritage, our future and our independence for a hollow promise of cooperation that is unlikely ever to materialize.

Opposition to the SNWA deal is virtually unanimous among groups that would be affected: the National Park Service, Utah county governments, environmental groups including Utah Physicians for Clean Air that are concerned over toxic air pollution, Native American tribes and groups promoting hunting and fishing.

Department of Natural Resources Director Mike Styler, though, in advising the governor to take the deal, has clearly been buffaloed.

Consider this irony: Herbert is willing to spend hundreds of thousands of tax dollars to fight a doomed legal battle for state ownership of federal lands, but he timidly shies from taking on Pat Mulroy in court to protect Utah’s precious water and the health of Utahns on the Wasatch Front.

Utah may lose a future lawsuit over the SNWA pipeline project, as Mulroy predicts, but if Herbert signs an agreement that lets SNWA move ahead, our loss is a certainty.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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