McCool: A coalition to stop water grab
There is a great deal of earnest discussion these days about whether Gov. Gary Herbert should sign a deal with the state of Nevada on that state's plan to suck groundwater from beneath Utah's Snake Valley and pipe it 285 miles south to Las Vegas. The governor himself said the other day that his hands are tied: "I can't stop the pipeline. That's a decision [Nevada] will make independently of us."
I respectfully disagree with the governor. Our objective should be precisely that: Stop the pipeline. That may seem politically infeasible, but it is not.
If it is built, this pipeline will do so much damage, and harm so many interests, that it presents an unprecedented opportunity to create an enormous and diverse coalition to oppose it.
Ideally, a "Stop the Pipeline" coalition would include the state of Utah, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and numerous counties and irrigation districts. Because the pipeline is a threat to Great Basin National Park, all proponents of parks, including the National Park Service, the National Parks and Conservation Association, and millions of park aficionados, would join the coalition.
The pipeline also poses a threat to several federal and state wildlife refuges, so the coalition would gain support from such wildlife-protection organizations as the National Wildlife Federation and the Audubon Society. The Great Basin offers tremendous opportunities for hunting and fishing as well, so groups that represent hunters and anglers have an interest in opposing the pipeline, including Ducks Unlimited, The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and the Boone and Crockett Club.
Because the proposal threatens the Goshute Indian Reservation, every one of the 310 Indian reservations in the United States has a vested interest in stopping what would be a terrible precedent for de-watering tribal land.
The pipeline, which would draw tens of thousands of acre-feet of water a year from aquifers under the arid Utah-Nevada border, has the potential to create some of the worst air pollution and dust storms since the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. Thus, it is a direct threat to everyone who lives downwind, including all the counties and cities of northern Utah.
Every organization in America that is concerned with air quality and public health, ranging from the American Lung Association to the U.S. Public Health Service and the Environmental Protection Agency, has an interest in stopping this project.
The pipeline also presents a grave danger to numerous farms and ranches in the Great Basin, enough so that every ranching and farming advocacy group in the U.S. should sign up for this effort, including the Farm Bureau and the U.S. Cattlemen's Association.
The pipeline is also a perfect example of Big Government excess, and will require enormous tax increases for the residents of southern Nevada. Every anti-tax group, from the tea party to the Utah Taxpayers Association, should resist this massive project, now estimated to cost taxpayers more than $15 billion.
There are also many people in Las Vegas and the state of Nevada who oppose the pipeline, including those who will get stuck paying the bill, and those who love the natural beauty of the Great Basin. Also, every group that advocates protecting the Great Basin, such as the Great Basin Water Network, would like to stop this project.
And every environmental group in America, ranging from the Sierra Club to the Wilderness Society, will oppose this environmental disaster-in-the-making.
We have an opportunity to put together one of the largest and most diverse political coalitions ever assembled in American politics.
Now is not the time to sign agreements. Now is the time to organize and make our collective voices heard.
Daniel McCool is a professor of political science at the University of Utah, where he is director of the Environmental and Sustainability Studies Program and codirector of Sustainability Curriculum Development.