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Public passionately weighs in on Las Vegas plan to pump rural groundwater south


By Sean Whaley, Nevada News Bureau: Supporters of a plan by the Southern Nevada Water Authority to pump more  than 125,00-acre feet of groundwater from rural areas of the state to slake the thirst of urban residents said today the project is critical to keeping the state’s economic engine running.

But opponents said the groundwater pumping plan being considered by the Nevada State Engineer will be an environmental disaster for rural eastern Nevada, harming wildlife and altering the way of life of residents from Caliente to Ely.

Numerous representatives of Native American tribes also spoke in opposition to the water importation plan, arguing it would permanently alter their way of life as well. About 40 Goshute, Shoshone and Paiute tribal members traveled by bus from the Utah/Nevada border area to attend and speak at the hearing in Carson City.

Clell Pete of the Confederated Tribes of the Goshute offers a prayer today outside the Las Vegas water hearing. About 40 members of the tribe, and others, protested the project. / Photo: Sean Whaley, Nevada News Bureau.

Hearings on the plan have been ongoing for two weeks and are expected to continue through Nov. 18 before Nevada State Engineer Jason King. A number of groups have formally opposed the agency’s request for 125,976-acre feet in Delamar, Dry Lake, Cave and Spring Valleys.

Today was set aside for members of the public to comment on the plan. Testimony was taken from around the state via video conference, including Caliente, Ely and Las Vegas. More than two dozen speakers took the opportunity to comment on the project, which ultimately could cost Las Vegas water rate payers as much as $7 billion. Construction would not begin for at least 10 to 15 years.

Danny Thompson, executive secretary-treasurer of the Nevada State AFL-CIO, testified in support of the proposal, saying the water agency has aggressively pursued conservation initiatives in an effort to maximize the use of the state’s allotment of water from the Colorado River.

“This state is in a place where we have never been before,” he said. “Our economy is a disaster. And we have a reliance on a single industry. I would tell you that this is more than just about inter-basin transfers, this is about the well being of the state of Nevada.”

Failure to approve the importation plan would mean gambling with the economic viability of the state, Thompson said.

Hearing Officer Susan Joseph-Taylor and State Engineer Jason King listen to testimony via video conference today. / Photo: Sean Whaley, Nevada News Bureau.

Frank Wyatt, president of Pinnacle Homes and president of the Southern Nevada Home Builders Association, also testified in support.

“From local home builders to suppliers and construction professionals, we support thousands of jobs that benefit Nevada’s economy,” he said. “To ensure job opportunities continue, Southern Nevada must have predictable water resources.”

The project will provide protection to Nevada from a drought in the Colorado River basin and diversify water resources, Wyatt said.

Brian McAnallen, vice president of government affairs for the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce, also supported the project.

“Achieving and maintaining good water quality today while preparing for the delivery system needs of tomorrow is essential to our community and it’s good public policy,” he said. “Southern Nevadans have already answered the call to conserve water.”

Susan Wetmore, a resident of Baker, Nevada, criticized the plan, however.

“I believe that the proposed pipeline is unwise, environmentally irresponsible and wasteful,” she said. “It is unwise because no one really knows what the effects of pumping will be on our hydrologic basins.”

Ronda Hornbeck, a lifetime resident of Lincoln County, said the water applications would restrict opportunities for economic development in rural Nevada.

“Southern Nevada Water Authority, by taking the water from the other counties, potentially takes away the ability of the smaller counties to continue and grow and prosper the same as Clark County wants to do,” she said.

“Why is it OK to destroy one community to save another?” Hornbeck asked. “The state water engineer states that if the water is granted, and there are impacts to the existing water rights and ecosystems, Southern Nevada Water Authority will have to stop pumping. By the time pumping impacts are noticed, it will be too late.”

Critics said the agency should work on desalinization plants instead of piping rural water south.

At the first day of the hearing, however, Pat Mulroy, general manager of the authority, said desalinization is not practical in the near term due to environmental concerns in neighboring California.

Tansey Smith, representing the Inter-Tribal Council of Nevada, read portions of a resolution approved in October 2010 in opposition to the project.

Tansey Smith, representing the Inter-Tribal Council of Nevada, speaks in opposition to the water plan. / Photo: Sean Whaley, Nevada News Bureau.

“But overall, if we could take the consideration of the Native American people who are continuing to use this precious resource for cultural purposes as part of the Great Basin culture of the state of Nevada, that would be a good thing,” she said.

Audio clips:

Frank Wyatt, president of Pinnacle Homes and president of the Southern Nevada Home Builders Association, says the project is an economic benefit for Nevada:

100711Wyatt :14 predictable water resources.”

Susan Wetmore of Baker, Nevada, says the project is unwise and irresponsible:

100711Wetmore :14 our hydrologic basins.”

Lincoln County resident Ronda Hornbeck says taking the rural water will make it difficult for the areas to develop economically:

100711Hornbeck1 :16 wants to do.”

Hornbeck says by the time the pumping of the water is found to be harming rural Nevada it will be too late:

100711Hornbeck2 :27 and social impossibility.”

Tansey Smith, representing the Inter-Tribal Council of Nevada, says Native American uses of the rural water should be considered:

100711Smith :26 people know that.”

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