Gov. Gary Herbert needs to be ready to use every tool in the kit to fight the designs of Las Vegas water merchants to start draining the border-straddling Snake Valley. But the agreement he is being pressured to sign, which supposedly protects Utah's interest in that area's water, is less a weapon than a white flag of surrender.
The governor should not sign.
Las Vegas, the city that's never slaked, is supplied by the Southern Nevada Water Authority, an agency that exists for no other purpose than to ensure that a city that sits in the middle of a desert never lacks for dancing fountains and green golf courses. It is pushing for the acquisition of water rights, rights of way and other permits and agreements that would help fill a proposed $15.5 billion, 300-mile, pipeline with water drawn from the north and east.
The agreement SNWA has set before Herbert is portrayed as a "water sharing" agreement concerning groundwater in the Snake Valley, an aquifer that ignores political subdivisions and sits on both sides of the Utah-Nevada border. But calling it an agreement to share water in an area where there is not enough water to share makes no sense, and should tip us off to the dangers that lie ahead if Utahns were to ratify the pact.
Some of Herbert's top advisers, including Mike Styler, director of Utah's Department of Natural Resources, are recommending that Utah sign because the deal includes promises from SNWA that it would delay its quest for Snake Valley water rights and agree to a system of monitoring wells that would, in theory, require the faucet to be shut off if it can be shown that the groundwater supply is being drained faster than it is being regenerated.
But the area in question is so arid that it would be hard to imagine that any significant drawdown would not amount to "mining" this limited resource. And there is no way that SNWA could be expected to simply stop its consumption once begun, no matter what the monitoring wells might say.
Even without factoring in the impact of global climate change, any substantial removal of water from the Snake Valley is likely to cause a stark change in the area's ecosystem. A 21st century dust bowl, with clouds of particulates rising to foul the air as far away as Salt Lake City, is a very real likelihood.
For SWNA, or for Utah, to fight over their "share" of the water in the Snake Valley ignores the fact that disrupting the delicate balance of the area threatens a major environmental disaster.