August 8, 2008
Fight Heats Up for Water Along Utah/Nevada Border
By Stephen Speckman Deseret News
Along with a lawsuit filed this week over water on the Utah/ Nevada border, Great Basin Water Network expects to file a petition today appealing Nevada State Engineer Tracy Taylor's ruling last month that granted almost 19,000 acre-feet of water rights to the Southern Nevada Water Authority to supply Las Vegas with water.
The water rights named in the petition impact the Cave, Dry Lake and Delamar valleys located inland from the border, where Taylor said there is "unappropriated" water for export.
Great Basin Water Network board member and Utahn Steve Erickson said Thursday that the timing of the suit in Nevada state court is meant to coincide with developments on another battle over water in the Snake Valley region, which more importantly to Utah is located along the Utah/Nevada border.
Erickson's group is alleging Taylor "grossly" overestimated at least the Dry Lake Valley's perennial yield of water, and that for all of the valleys Taylor arbitrarily cut off the time period for which he will consider "potential impacts to downstream water rights holders and the environment."
Also this week, Utah Association of Counties attorney Mark Ward said an appeal was filed in Nevada state court over Taylor's denial of Utah and Salt Lake counties as "interested" parties as Taylor moves forward on Southern Nevada Water Authority's plans to pipe water from the Snake Valley basin to Las Vegas.
Among the biggest concerns at this point are that taking water from aquifers along the border will destroy wildlife and someday create dust-bowl conditions that Salt Lake and Utah counties say will impact their ability to meet federal air quality standards and to provide clean air for residents along the Wasatch Front.
Before any water can start to flow from Snake Valley to Las Vegas, however, the Southern Nevada Water Authority needs the state engineer's approval and a nod from the Bureau of Land Management to run pipeline over public lands. Ward said Southern Nevada Water Authority is jumping through both hoops simultaneously.
Further, in 2004 Congress said that Utah and Nevada need to reach a written agreement on how to use water from basins along the border. "That's still being negotiated," Ward said.
In the meantime, Taylor and those trying to have their say in the Snake Valley are at odds over whether those seeking interested party status filed for the designation in a timely manner.
Taylor has so far said that anyone applying for interested party status, or as a protestant, should have done so in 1989, when water- share holders would have been notified of plans to eventually tap into water along the border.
Millard County did file in 1989 but did not include the matter of air quality in the issues it wanted to bring forward as a protestant. Attorneys for Millard County this month filed a petition with Taylor asking him to allow an issue to be brought forward that covers its concerns about drying up the Snake Valley region and its impact on air quality.
Salt Lake County environmental policy coordinator Ann Ober said Salt Lake County likely was not notified back then because it was not a water-share holder. But that's not stopping anyone from appealing.
"We think that Salt Lake County has a great case," said Ober. "We have a responsibility to fight for clean air."
Ward said that by about October 2009, both sides will know who has legal interested party status and what issues protesters can bring to the table.
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