Opinion: Nevada aims to suck itself dry

Las Vegas wants to suck water from distant aquifers to fuel more unsustainable growth.

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.

A spring ecosystem in the Mojave Desert near Death Valley, California. PHOTO COURTESY D.M. MILLER/USGS.

“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.


7 thoughts on “Opinion: Nevada aims to suck itself dry

  1. This does not appear to be a train wreck – it is more like “ecocide.” Evidently the authorities in Las Vegas do not understand or care about aquifer recharge rates. They are not far from the Owens Valley in California, another fragile environment devastated by a drought created by diversion of its water to feed to Los Angeles. It will never recover, and the loss of the valley ecosystem has caused the supply of diverted water to constantly decrease due to the changes in the affected watershed.

    Of course Las Vegas has not studied the alternatives. It is obvious that they are not less expensive than destroying the fragile ecology of the rest of the state. All they care about is money. Wait till they find out you cannot drink money, and there comes a point where all the money in the world will not buy a drink of water.

    1. I think “ecocide” is already an accepted term, perhaps more apt than ecological genocide, since genocide is defined as “the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group.”

      So I’m going to edit … hope that’s OK

  2. If the State goes ahead with this plan, as well as the probable result, as Mark noted of the Owens Valley in California, what effect could that have on Colorado? More dust storms depositing dust in the state? How would that affect the snow in the winter time? Early melt? Especially if the Jet Stream splits, as it did this year? Points to ponder.

    1. It is certainly not a stretch of the imagination to think that catastrophic ecological events in Nevada, part of the Colorado River drainage, could affect Colorado.

      Water law and rights are complex and draconian. Once they start the pumping, no one can shut it off other than Mother Nature – a “right” has been established. Every surface water feature in the area of the aquifer should be documented by surveyors and biologists, and a measuring system established to determine when – not if – the pumping is destroying surface supplies. This will establish replenishment rates, and Las Vegas should not be allowed to pump at a rate higher than that level. That of course will be a trickle that makes it unprofitable to build the pumping infrastructure.

      OK, I am dreaming, I will wake up now. They are going to turn an arid region into a wasteland so that the culture of drugs, gambling, and prostitution can be maintained until the land is destroyed. And people bitch because I like to ride my trail bike on a few old mining roads. A balance needs to be established.

  3. Bob, nice presentation of this important issue – thank you for your efforts!

    This is indeed ecocide, and does have very direct ties to dust on snow events in the Rockies. That same dust will also make Salt Lake City and other places a second generation of “down-winders” – the area that will be denuded is downwind from the NV Test Site and radioactive materials held in the soil and protected from movement by vegetation will be released. The BLM draft EIS for the water pipeline estimates that by 200 years from now an additional 35,000 TONS of new dust will arise from the affected area (which by the way is about the size of the state of Vermont).

    For more info, go to:

    or contact me at : rmrowka@biologicaldiversity.org

  4. i think it’s GREAT! just think how cheap flights are gonna be to Vegas in the future…and prostitutes will be givin’ it away!

    Las Vegas was a cancer from the start, has always been cancerous, and now they’re about to hasten the metastasis…ignorance is bliss, AND it begets more ignorance. a couple of more winters like this one…god forbid they limit showers to 3 min., water all their golf courses with grey water, shut down all those depressing ‘fountains…and still, they’ll be headed for the crapper.

  5. Am suspicious of the developers who appeared at the (October) public hearing in Carson City, especially Mr. Harvey Whittemore as being the initial funder of the project. Now he is into some trouble with Mr. Seeno, who has purchased the Coyote Springs development (bad move for Seeno!). Any potential for 100,000 new homes without the water from the SNWA pipeline that is parallel the Coyote Springs site?
    Sounds like an excellent retirement plan for the developers and their helper General Manager Pat Muroy. Bad for everyone else though, including the entire spring fed ecosystem! Yes, this is a repeat of the Owens Valley water theft from a century ago.

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