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Native American tribes file legal challenge to Las Vegas groundwater pumping plan


By Sean Whaley: Nevada News Bureau: A coalition of Native American tribes has filed a lawsuit in Nevada District Court seeking to overturn a ruling issued earlier this year by the state engineer granting nearly 84,000-acre-feet of groundwater in four rural eastern valleys to Las Vegas.

The Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation (CTGR), Ely Shoshone Tribe and Duckwater Shoshone Tribe filed the appeal on Friday in the White Pine County District Court in eastern Nevada.

The appeal follows a decision by Nevada State Engineer Jason King in March to allocate the groundwater in Delamar, Dry Lake, Cave and Spring Valleys to the Las Vegas Valley Water District as part of an ambitious $7 billion project to pipe the water south.

The water district had sought about 125,000-acre-feet of groundwater in its applications.

“I fear Mr. King’s decision will literally wipe out our tribe, so of course we are filing an appeal,” said Ed Naranjo, CTGR Tribal Chairman. “We are determined to fight this disastrous project so long as decision-makers keep it alive. We have no other choice.”

King found in his rulings that the water district had justified the need to import water from the valleys and that the agency has an acceptable water conservation plan.

In partially granting the Spring Valley water request, he said, “there is unappropriated water for export from Spring Valley, (and) there is no substantial evidence the proposed use will conflict with existing rights . . . ”

Along with the tribes, numerous individuals, groups and municipalities have also opposed the decision, including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake, Millard, Juab, and Tooele Counties in Utah, the Great Basin Water Network, and several individual ranchers and farmers.

The water authority argued in hearings on the applications held last year that the plan to acquire unappropriated groundwater rights in rural Nevada to supplement Southern Nevada’s supply of Colorado River water is absolutely essential to the economic future of the region.

The authority said the water would not be tapped for many years if the applications were approved. Beyond the hearing process, construction of a 300-mile pipeline to bring the water to Southern Nevada will take 10 to 15 years. The pipeline project cost is estimated at $7 billion, a figure opponents said is well below what it will actually cost ratepayers.

The tribes argue they depend on the groundwater in Spring Valley for a number of reasons, such as native wildlife and plants, and sacred sites used for religious practice.

Madeline Greymountain, vice-chairwoman of the Goshute Tribal Council, said: “Our tribal leaders and elders have spent a tremendous amount of time and energy documenting the importance of our ancestral lands including Spring Valley. The area is vital to the cultural survival of our people.

“We pleaded before the Nevada State Engineer, we shed tears, we wanted our voices to be heard, but neither our survival as a people, nor our voices were considered in the final ruling,” she said. “Spring Valley is as important to our people today, as it was to our past, and will be to our future generations. So we will protect it in every way we can.”

The Goshute Tribe has been fighting the project for nine years. The tribe detailed its hunting and gathering areas and other cultural information in the form of a cultural map, which was presented to King during the hearings.

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