Nevada state engineer to decide water pipeline fate

Dec 2, 2011

Nevada’s state engineer, Jason King, won’t be walking on water any time soon, but if Las Vegas has its way, the city will be a little less thirsty. As Nevada’s top water regulator, King will determine the fate of what may easily be the state’s scarcest and most precious resource—southern Nevada’s water supply.

The Southern Nevada Wa ter

Authority (SNWA) hopes to pump 126,000 acre feet of groundwater a year from the rural valleys of eastern Nevada and send it to Las Vegas via a 300-mile, multibilliondollar pipeline. Each acrefoot equates to about 326,000 gallons, or one year of water for two homes.

King will decide how much groundwater, if any, the authority is allowed to tap.

King’s big decision in what some have called the most important water case the state has ever heard, is expected by the end of March.

Before King can make his decision, he will be reviewing everything he read and heard during a six-week state hearing that ended Nov. 18. The hearing included testimony from 82 witnesses and thousands of documents.

His predecessor granted SNWA some water for the project in 2007 and 2008, but the Nevada Supreme Court overturned those decisions early last year and ordered the state engineer to hear the matter again.

Nevada Cattlemen’s Association (NCA) and Nevada WoolGrowers Association are working hard to protect the valuable rural water resources.

A resolution passed at their association meetings was sent to Gov. Kenny Guinn, state legislators, the State Engineer’s Office and the Nevada Association of Counties, along with being sent to Pat Mulroy, executive director of SNWA, and a guest speaker at the meetings.

The resolution, in response to SNWA’s proposed pipeline, is not asking for any specific changes, but instead protection and verification that rural water resources will be protected, according to NCA President Preston Wright.

Mulroy told the convention audience the Colorado River system can’t recover from the drought soon enough to support the needs of growing Las Vegas. The Las Vegas area currently gets 90 percent of its water from the Lake Mead reservoir behind Hoover Dam on the Colorado River.

But representatives from the AFL-CIO, Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce, a homebuilders association and the Nevada resort industry praised the proposed 300-mile, $3.5 billion pipeline.

Without a reliable water supply, the Las Vegas area will not be able to recover from the recession, let alone flourish again, said Danny Thompson, secretary-treasurer of the Nevada AFL-CIO.

“This is about more than an inter-basin transfer of water,” Thompson said. “The economic viability of the state is at stake here.”

King can expect to also review thousands of comments before the end of the public comment period. More than 21,000 comments were sent last Tuesday alone, according to officials with the Tucson, AZ-based Center for Biological Diversity.

The Nevada Division of Water Resources was taking written public comment on the proposal last week in Carson City. Email submissions were not accepted.

The group says that siphoning 57 million gallons of water a year would ruin the environment and economy of parts of eastern Nevada and western Utah—all to support what the center calls unsustainable urban growth in southern Nevada.

“Aside from being a financial boondoggle, the Water Authority’s proposed pipeline would destroy Nevada’s priceless natural heritage and huge swaths of rural communities,” Rob Mrowka, a Nevada-based ecologist with the organization, said in a statement. “There are other, better options for addressing southern Nevada’s longterm water needs.”

But not everyone in the city of Las Vegas supports the pipeline.

“We don’t need this water,” Great Basin Water Network spokesman Launce Rake said during a news conference last Monday on a downtown street near the water authority office. “We have a safe, reliable source of water in the Colorado River if we use it wisely.” — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor