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Pipeline folly

Published August 8, 2012 11:19 am

Las Vegas water plan unwise
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The Bureau of Land Management's final environmental impact study grants the water barons of Las Vegas rights of way to build a 263-mile pipeline to siphon huge quantities of ground water from valleys in eastern Nevada to Sin City. This could easily kill off plant and animal life in these valleys, not by design, but because when the predictable environmental disaster is realized, it could be too late to reverse it.

Creating a dust bowl in eastern Nevada could spew air pollution downwind into Utah, all the way to the Wasatch Front. Sapping the underground aquifers in Nevada's Spring Valley could deplete ground water down slope in adjoining Snake Valley, which straddles the Nevada/Utah state line. For these reasons, the Las Vegas water pipeline project is environmental folly.

The Southern Nevada Water Authority, not the BLM, is responsible for this disaster-in-the-making. The Nevada state engineer, who allocates water rights in the Silver State, has jurisdiction over how much ground water SNWA can appropriate and pump, not the BLM. Still, it was disappointing to learn that the BLM's final environmental study is greased to allow SNWA to build the pipeline over federal lands. The BLM is responsible for looking after the affected federal lands, and there it has failed in its duty.

SNWA's application asked for permission to pump 176,655 acre-feet of water a year. (An acre-foot is roughly enough to supply a single-family home and yard for a year.) The BLM's preferred alternative would allow pumping of 114,129 acre-feet per year.

The only silver lining in the study for Utah is that it assumes no ground water will be taken directly from Snake Valley. But many of the people who live in Snake Valley believe that is a hollow victory because experience and ground water studies show that the aquifers beneath these Great Basin valleys are interconnected. If too much water is taken from Spring Valley, it will inevitably deplete water levels in Snake Valley.

In addition, SNWA could make another run at a pipeline into Snake Valley at a later date. The state engineer has imposed monitoring on SNWA's withdrawals. But by the time the alarm sounds, the damage will be done.