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The right decision

Published May 17, 2013 1:01 am

Herbert should stick to his guns
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Gov. Gary Herbert made the right decision last month when he announced he would not sign a controversial agreement that would have given Nevada the go-ahead to mine the precious groundwater under the Snake Valley. He should not renege on it at the behest of legislators and other members of the Utah Water Development Commission.

Herbert deserved all the praise he received for withstanding political and legal pressure and refusing to sign away the ancient water that lies deep under the dry soil straddling the Utah-Nevada border. There were as many or more opponents of the agreement, who cited the potential for creating a dust bowl in the West Desert that would worsen air pollution on the Wasatch Front, and the bad precedent the deal would set as worsening droughts make water even more scarce.

But Herbert said he based his decision on what he learned from listening to those who stood to be most affected by the deal — local officials, Indian tribes, ranchers and other landowners. Most of them feared the agreement would lead to a disastrous draw-down of the small quantity of water that barely supports a delicate ecosystem.

They were right then, and they are still right.

The water commission is urging Herbert to reverse course, saying the agreement protects Snake Valley water rights and statewide interests. But the more likely motive is that they are buying the threats and intimidation coming from the Southern Nevada Water Authority, which has said it would stand in the way of Utah taking any more water from the Colorado River if Utah failed to sign.

The Washington County Water Conservancy District, whose director is a member of the commission, is clinging to the notion of a Lake Powell pipeline to take water from that Colorado River reservoir to keep Washington County and its golf courses and lawns green. That pipeline proposal would be an expensive boondoggle, and Utah taxpayers are not likely to stand still for it. More relevant still is the fact that Lake Powell is drying up, and there will be no more water for St. George. The conservancy district should accept that it must begin living up to its name and enforce conservation as the best way to stretch dwindling water supplies.

The proposed pact was an utter sham. The idea that Vegas could take "its half" of the water, pipe it 285 miles away in a vain attempt to slake the thirst of that artificial oasis, and not destroy the fragile ecosystem at the other end of the straw, ignores common sense.

Ultimately, Herbert was not swayed by SNWA's threats. He made the right decision, and he should stick to it.