October 2, 2008

Groups Sue to Save Fish, Stop Water Grab Along Border

By Stephen Speckman Deseret News

A rare fish found only in Utah may become a snag in the Southern Nevada Water Authority's bid to pump water from sources along the state's border with Utah to Las Vegas.

The Center for Biological Diversity, Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation and the Great Basin Chapter of Trout Unlimited on Wednesday filed a notice of intent to sue Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne regarding the issue of pumping water from the Snake Valley along the border.

The groups say they're suing for Kempthorne's failure "to respond to a petition to protect the least chub, a rare fish species found only in Utah, as a threatened or endangered species under the federal Endangered Species Act." The claim is that the fish's numbers have been reduced to six wild populations, including three in the Snake Valley area.

"This small minnowlike fish is an important part of the web of life in Utah," Center for Biological Diversity science director Noah Greenwald said in a statement.

Don Duff, president of the Great Basin Chapter of Trout Unlimited, said he has seen least chub populations drop over 30 years from excessive groundwater pumping, exotic species and other factors. He said the fish's decreasing numbers are also an indication of declining water tables that will also harm farmers and ranchers.

Opponents of the Southern Nevada Water Authority's proposal say pumping water from the Snake Valley region will someday create a "dust-bowl" like condition that will result in airborne dust that contributes to poor air quality all the way east along the Wasatch Front. The water proposal is to operate nine pumping stations that will deliver 25,000 to 50,000 acre-feet of water per year to Las Vegas.

Speaking on behalf of the Goshutes, Rupert Steele called the least chub "an ambassador from an imperiled ecosystem," which if protected he said will provide future generations whose lives will depend on that ecosystem not drying out.

Wild Utah Project's Jim Catlin also noted in a statement, "As the climate changes, we can no longer promote irresponsible urban development such as what now occurs in Las Vegas. In order for all to survive in a new climate, Las Vegas will need to be responsible in how it uses water and act in the best interest of its neighbors."

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