No Piping Down for Pipeline

The Great Basin is under attack and may be going down the drains of Las Vegas. It seems the more that happens in Vegas will no longer stay in Vegas as their pipeline dream may become a reality. The city cannot continue to drain Lake Mead anymore because of drought and the Colorado River appropriations are not enough either as they continue the need to moisten their future city development projects by reaching north and using The Great Basin as their next source of water. An approximate three hundred mile pipeline will bring that water to their city.  

On March 22, 2012, Jason King, State Engineer, granted the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) 15 separate permits and in the first stage alone, would allow 61,127 acre-feet of water to be pumped annually but would start “slow” at 38,000 acre-feet of water the first eight years, 12,000 acre-feet added over the next eight years. SNWA water rights will allow them to pump 84,000 acre-feet of groundwater per year. When converted to gallons, 38,000 acre-feet is 12 billion gallons of ground water per year and 84,000 acre-feet converts to 27 billion gallons of ground water per year.

This would increase the availability of water to Las Vegas by 25%. Why so much? Why not improve their water conservations efforts to reduce water consumption by 25%?

The Great Basin, a little-known environmental treasure, is unique because the water from precipitation seeps through the subsurface and recharges the basins that cover the 200,000 square miles of the Great Basin. Rain and snow is the only way the precious groundwater is replenished. The water flows underground and along the flow creates springs throughout the Great Basin. Spring Valley, Cave Valley, Dry Lake Valley, Snake Valley and Delamar Valley is where SNWA will be tapping into with wells and the water will be discharged into the pipeline headed for Las Vegas. This sudden and unnatural depletion of a water source, which has been around since the ice age, has never been thoroughly studied and the results will most likely be detrimental.

The writing was on the wall in 2005 when Reno lawyer Anne Vohl said, “Groundwater development is not the proper phrase. It should be called ‘Groundwater depletion for purposes of real estate development”. The Great Basin may just turn into “The Great Dust Bowl”. The threat is not only a depletion of a non-renewable water source, well actually the renewal probably would take centuries, but it will threaten and endanger numerous unique inhabitants of The Great Basin that rely on the 300 springs and 120 miles of streams that these permits eventually will ruin.

Southern Nevada Water Authority will not bring out the shovels immediately but they will eventually. They will have to fight a group of people from varied backgrounds, who would never come together otherwise, to fight for their water, their lives, their future and future generations. This group consists of residents of the Great Basin areas, scientists who have studied The Great Basin, attorneys, businesspeople, Republicans, Democrats, Mormons, ranchers, farmers, senior citizens, Native Americans and residents of Las Vegas and Utah. Organizations involved are The National Parks Conservation Association, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Great Basin Water Network, which represents more than 100 groups and individuals, will have their day in court on the appeal.

But will it make a difference? SNWA has the water rights now.

SNWA still has to get Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to grant permission to build the pipeline through federal land. And it is just not a 300-mile underground pipeline but 300 miles of power lines; substations and pump stations along the way; and an underground storage reservoir. The tactics from SNWA is lack of independent third-party reports about actual water needs of Las Vegas. The raw data collected by hydrologists of the U.S. Geological Survey, only lay the groundwork and there are worries about the manipulation of the data in SNWA’s favor. The report of financial costs are based on manipulation of the figures of today’s costs but the actual costs probably will be over their 15 billion estimate. There were no attempts to come up with alternatives to the water issue.

Ironically, the decision to grant these rights occurred on March 22, 2012, International World Water Day, a day where the focus and attention was to promote and advocate for the sustainable management of water resources. It is a day when the focus and attention was on the impacts on current water resources from rapid urban population growth and development, not granting rights to use more water. The theme for this year was “Water for Cities” where government, organizations and individuals from the communities could respond and address the challenges of urban water management.

The Great Basin Network works hard to protect the water sources of the Great Basin. The organizations, businesses and individuals involved have formed a network providing their expertise and resources to stop the pipeline. They also advocate making sure that decisions on all water development proposals in the Great Basin are made in the open from the beginning and without political and developer special interest pressure.

Las Vegas metropolitan area and other large communities in the Great Basin need to focus on implementing effective water conservation programs instead of billion dollar projects. Get involved and sign the “Stop the Water Grab Petition” at the Great Basin Water Network website so we can stand strong in opposing the Bureau Of Land Management to permit Southern Nevada Water Authority to proceed with their depletion of the Great Basin’s water and building a destructive pipeline.

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