State engineer approves Las Vegas plan to pump groundwater from remote basins
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — It was almost inevitable that state officials in Nevada would approve a controversial groundwater pumping scheme that will suck the water out of various aquifers, and could extinguish the surface life that depends on precious moisture in the desert.
After all, sustainable development has never been a Nevada hallmark, and Las Vegas — despite occasional propaganda campaigns suggesting otherwise — is the very antithesis of sustainability.
But this week’s decision by the Nevada State Engineer will have serious consequences for rare ecological communities that depend on groundwater, drying up springs, creeks and upland plant communities. The project is, by most measures, an environmental train wreck in the making.
The fully developed pipeline project would suck 57 million gallons of water a year away from rural Nevada and Utah, and would cost rate payers more than $15.5 billion dollars, according to a study commissioned by the water officials.
“The winner in today’s ruling is mindless Las Vegas growth, while biodiversity, rural residents and future generations are the clear losers,” said Rob Mrowka, a Nevada-based ecologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “There are other, better options for addressing southern Nevada’s long-term water needs.”
Studies by the Bureau of Land Management spell out the environmental costs of the project, showing that the groundwater pumping could damage more than 300 springs and more than 120 miles of stream, as well as harming species like the Bonneville cutthroat trout, frogs, desert fish and springsnails. Land-based species like sage grouse, mule deer and elk could suffer major declines due to impacts to riparian habitat.
“The state engineer is ignoring science and bending to the winds of political pressure,” said Mrowka.“ Robbing Nevada’s wildlife and rural communities of water to quench the insatiable thirst of Las Vegas is profoundly shortsighted.”
Environmental advocates charge that the proponents have never produced an analysis comparing the costs, benefits and risks of the various alternatives to the pipeline, opting instead to pursue groundwater-mining. Other options available to the Water Authority for providing future water include aggressive conservation and investment in modern water appliances and devices.
“The state engineer failed in his duties by not requiring the Water Authority to consider alternatives before approving rights to pump the groundwater,” Mrowka concluded.