Proposed bill would enable desert-killing groundwater exploitation
After failing several times to win approval for a new groundwater depletion scheme via regulatory channels, the Southern Nevada Water Authority is now pursuing a legislative water grab that could devastate fragile desert ecosystems and push some endangered species even closer to extinction.
Most recently, the Nevada Supreme Court rejected the Las Vegas bid for a new pipeline.
Assembly Bill 298 would enable for groundwater export projects that would harm prings and wetlands, degrade air quality with fugitive dust and impact existing water rights holders. During the hearing numerous members of conservation groups and the public spoke to vigorously oppose the bill.
The Southern Nevada Water Authority — the primary author of the proposed legislation — has long pursued a project to grab groundwater from eastern Nevada and pipe it hundreds of miles across the desert to slake Las Vegas’ unending thirst. White Pine County, the Great Basin Water Network and the Center for Biological Diversity have all filed suit against the project.
“This appalling bill is just a blank check for a massive pipeline that will suck up Nevada’s groundwater at the expense of rural communities, wildlife and future generations,” said Patrick Donnelly, Nevada wildlife advocate with the Center. for Biological Diversity “The Southern Nevada Water Authority’s proposed pipeline, and this legislation to enable it, are destructive to Nevada’s environment, and we’re going to do everything we can to stop them.”
A.B. 298 would make significant changes to Nevada water law in order to facilitate projects like this pipeline. The bill would redefine the term “environmentally sound” to permit pumping projects to dry springs and water features such that native riparian plant communities would transition to dry-land communities. The extirpation of native plant communities is clearly not environmentally sound.
Critics say the mitigation provisions in the legislature fall short of offering protection because they only call for monitoring.
“In truth, this bill’s mitigation plans offer only a veneer of protection,” said David von Seggern, chair of the Sierra Club Toiyabe Chapter. “By the time impacts are detected, it is too late to save the resources. After pumping ceases, aquifer levels may not recover for generations.”
What makes this proposed legislation even worse is that Nevada already has numerous over-allocated basins where the effects of groundwater overdraft have been felt. And because Nevada is the driest state in the country, its wildlife are particularly susceptible to negative impacts from groundwater pumping.
“Deer, elk, bighorn sheep, migratory birds, rare and endemic aquatic species — they all rely on sustainable flows from Nevada’s springs and wetlands,” said Basin and Range Watch executive director Laura Cunningham. “Drying up those water features would be catastrophic for Nevada’s wildlife.”
“Springs have already dried up or shown reduced flows due to over-pumping in Nevada’s Amargosa hydrographic region, imperiling endangered species such as the Pahrump poolfish and the Devil’s Hole pupfish,” said Tanya Henderson, executive director of the Amargosa Conservancy.
“Make no mistake — the intent of this bill is to facilitate groundwater export by the Southern Nevada Water Authority,” said Donnelly. “Any claims of the bill protecting existing rights users or the environment are the greenwashing of a destructive proposal.”