October marks the 30th year of what some have labeled “the ongoing fight to stop one of the largest-ever water grabs in the history of the nation.”
As stated in a recent press release by the Great Basin Water Network, in Oct.1989, the Las Vegas Valley Water District applied to take more than 260 billion gallons of water annually from the Great Basin, focusing most of it on eastern Nevada, southern Idaho and western Utah’s Pleistocene-era aquifers. This spans a section of the U.S. larger than the New England region, an area of 71,998.8 square miles [4,608,000 acres] encompassing the states of Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut.
Included in the section are Snake, Spring, Cave, Dry Lake and Delamar valleys in rural Nevada, according to Kyle Roenick, Great Basin Water Network Executive Director.
The Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) was operating on a simple plan, Roenick explained: have the Nevada State Engineer grant the applications for water, get Congress to carve out a Right of Way on federal land, pump the water and deliver it via a nearly 300-mile long pipeline to the Las Vegas valley at a cost of $13.5 billion (2011 cost estimate).
Numerous groups, including farmers and tribes, environmentalists, ranchers, conservative officials, county commission boards and others have so far held up drilling and construction of the pipeline in the court system.
Some claim the pipeline is dead right now or so it might seem as noted in an article in the Las Vegas Review-Journal in Aug. 2018. “On Friday [Aug. 17], Nevada’s top water regulator dropped a 111-page ruling widely interpreted as the final blow to Las Vegas’ vexed campaign to pump groundwater from Eastern Nevada and pipe it to the state’s growing urban center – the country’s driest city – about 250 miles away.”
The ruling denied the SNWA the right to pump billions of gallons of water from rural Nevada aquifers, transport it down south and connect it to Las Vegas taps.
“This ill-conceived multibillion-dollar boondoggle is now dead in the water,” Abigail Johnson, also of the Great Basin Water Network, said in a statement. “After a string of court victories, we have a decision showing that the water is not available for this project without hurting the area’s existing water rights and environment.”
But the question remains: is the pipeline idea really dead?
SNWA’s original project was promoted as being able to deliver 58 billion gallons of water by 2020.
At present, the project still has no water rights to unappropriated groundwater and no pipeline Right of Way, but litigation and contentions continue in the courts.
The RJ article noted, “The state legislature and the regulatory arena continue and banks, developers, resorts and other interests are still pushing for the project despite the known risks.”
With that in mind, another round of oral arguments against the efforts by SNWA will be heard Nov. 12, 2019, in Ely in the chambers of Nevada’s Seventh Judicial District Court. The Great Basin Water Network said they expect attendees to include officials from White Pine County, Utah’ tribal governments; The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and other project opponents who want to protect the Great Basin’s wildlife, wild places and water resources in perpetuity.