July 10, 2008

Nevada Official OKs Water Plan: Nevada Engineer Rules That Las Vegas Can Tap Aquifer Along State Line

By Patty Henetz, The Salt Lake Tribune

Jul. 10--Las Vegas is closing in on its quest to pipe groundwater from an aquifer that straddles the Utah-Nevada state line to fuel growth in the desert megalopolis.

Nevada State Engineer Tracy Taylor on Wednesday ruled that the Southern Nevada Water Authority may take 18,755 acre-feet of water annually from three Lincoln County valleys that are part of the basin that includes Snake Valley in Utah.

Taylor also declared that Salt Lake and Utah counties -- which sought to be heard on the matter -- won't be allowed special status during hearings on the Vegas pipeline proposal because the counties did not file official protests in 1989, when SNWA first unveiled its plan.

The water agency considers both decisions victories, said spokesman Scott Huntley, though the water drawdown in Cave, Dry Lake and Delamar valleys is by far the most significant.

Though the water agency's original request was for nearly twice that much water, "that definitely was the number we were hoping for," Huntley said.

An acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons, considered enough for a four-person family's annual needs.

Taylor's other ruling, which Huntley said was relatively insignificant to Las Vegas, means the Wasatch Front counties won't be granted "interested person" status during upcoming hearings on the SNWA pipeline proposal.

Taylor's ruling said the counties should have known they needed to protest when the pipeline permit was submitted in 1989. But Ann Ober, Salt Lake County's Environmental Policy Coordinator, said the counties weren't aware nearly 20 years ago of the air-quality problems they would face today under U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rules.

"Not only was [our knowledge] lacking, but the EPA requirements have become much more stringent," Ober said.

Water experts say that the 285-mile, $3.5 billion Las Vegas pipeline could cause the basin's water table to drop far enough to kill off the vegetation that now holds the soil in place. That could cause dust storms to reach the Wasatch Front and further damage the already-degraded air quality.

The counties don't plan to appeal Taylor's ruling. A conservation group, however, may challenge the denial of its interested party application, said Steve Erickson, spokesman for the Great Basin Water Network.

Erickson said Taylor's ruling on the water SNWA can draw from the three Lincoln County valleys overestimates the perennial yield and recharge in the nation's driest region.

Others also denied interested party status included the Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Nation and the Wells Band of the TeMoak tribe of the Western Shoshone. Taylor reasoned that the tribes were near the Ely Shoshones, who are official protestants, as is the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Taylor did grant interested person status to the Callao Irrigation Co. and ranch owner Veronica Douglass, both of whom argued successfully that they had no way to know about the pipeline proposal because notices about the 1989 application were published in Nevada newspapers but not in Utah.

Callao rancher Cecil Garland, a member of the irrigation company, said Snake Valley has no surplus water to send to Vegas, where officials complain about drought conditions.

"We are in the same extended and very debilitating drought as they are, maybe even worse," Garland said.


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