New lawsuit filed to void federal OK for proposed desert pipeline
FRISCO — A recent ruling by the Nevada Supreme Court appears to reinforce arguments by conservation advocates that a scheme to develop and pipe groundwater to Las Vegas can’t pass scientific, environmental or legal muster.
The Southern Nevada Water Authority wants to siphon 37 billion gallons from remote underground aquifers in a plan that was challenged by the Center for Biological Diversity and its allies in the Great Basin Water Network, as well as by White Pine County, Nev.
In 2011, the Nevada Division of Water Resources gave the project a thumbs-up by allocating 84,000 acre-feet of ancient groundwater a year to the Southern Nevada Water Authority for export to Las Vegas, but Senior Judge Robert Estes of the Seventh Judicial District Court of Nevada said that allocation is unfair to future Nevadans and not in the public interest.
The state supreme court upheld the lower court ruling in what could be a death knell for the ill-conceived and unsustainable water export project.
“If the Nevada State Engineer lacks information to set concrete triggers for monitoring and preventing or mitigating harmful impacts, then SNWA’s applications must be denied,” said Abby Johnson, president of The Great Basin Water Network. “The District Court decision reversed the State Engineer’s decision on all of SNWA’s water rights applications in Spring, Cave, Dry Lake and Delamar Valleys,” Johnson said.
“The Supreme Court’s ruling requires that the State Engineer and SNWA accept that decision, and confront the deficiencies that Judge Estes held must be corrected before any of SNWA’s water rights applications can be granted,” she continued.
Johnson said that, for 25 years, SNWA has failed to show how its proposal is sustainable and complies with state water law.
“The fact that they not only have failed to produce such evidence in all that time, but also have gone on record saying repeatedly that they cannot produce such evidence, only goes to show this misguided proposal never has been and never will be scientifically defensible or legally permissible,” said GBWN attorney Simeon Herskovits of Advocates for Community and Environment.
Following the Nevada Supreme Court decision, conservation advocates also took aim at a federal decision that approves a right-of-way for the proposed 265 mile pipeline. A lawsuit asks a federal court to void the Bureau of Land Management’s Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision (ROD) and “suspend and enjoin any operation on the right-of-way” pending full compliance with federal environmental laws and trust obligations to the Tribal Plaintiffs. The groups going to court include White Pine County, the Great Basin Water Network, the Goshute and Shoshone Tribes.
The Plaintiffs challenge the BLM’s December 2012 Record of Decision, claiming the agency failed to take a “hard look” at the impacts of the project, failed to consider reasonable alternatives, failed to prevent unnecessary or undue environmental degradation, and failed to properly consult with and evaluate and mitigate impacts to Tribal resources.
“The federal government has failed in its trust responsibility, therefore the Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation have no recourse but to file against the Department of Interior and the BLM for failure to protect our interests, which is a legal and moral obligation of the highest fiduciary standard,” said Madeline Greymountain, Chairwoman of the Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation. We cannot look the other way when the future of our people and homelands are in the hands of those who have their priorities mixed up,” Greymountain said.
The Swamp Cedars Massacre Site in White Pine County’s Spring Valley is an example of this failure. According to Chairwoman Greymountain, “To our people’s detriment, SNWA was awarded clearance to destroy our Tribe’s most sacred of all places, the Swamp Cedars Massacre Site. It is the location of three different massacres of our Indian ancestors, and the location of the largest recorded massacre of Indian people by the United States government in all of U.S. history. Sadly, SNWA aims to destroy this site completely, calling their destructive wake ‘succession.’ ”
“In approving the project and the pipeline ROW, BLM ignored its own science and conclusions that the environmental impacts would be irreversible, irretrievable and widespread. That’s arbitrary and capricious decision-making,” said Johnson.
The plaintiffs argue that the BLM did an inadequate analysis of the potential for drastic impacts upon air quality downwind of the project area. The drawdown from SNWA’s proposed pumping would dry up springs, wetlands and riparian areas, and public rangelands by dropping the water table by dozens to hundreds of feet, threatening the regional economic viability of ranching and tourism, and jeopardizing senior water rights.
“All the scientific modeling, including SNWA’s own model, shows that the proposed groundwater pumping will have devastating effects on both existing water rights and sensitive environmental resources throughout a broad region encompassing a number of hydrologically connected valleys,” said Herskovits.
The proposed mitigation plan relied on by the BLM for protection of federal resources is woefully vague and inadequate and has little to no hope of success.” Herskovits added.