With standing room only, the controversial water hearing began Tuesday morning at the White Pine County Courthouse, District Court room. The hearing revisits the 2018 findings of the state’s top water regulator who previously rejected Southern Nevada Water Authority’s (SNWA) engineer pipeline plan based on a court order that he called flawed.
Senior District Judge Robert Estes, who issued that 2013 order, also is presiding in this week’s hearing.
Pumping groundwater from White Pine and Lincoln counties to Clark County is being opposed by conservationists as well as residents, ranchers, tribes and other property interests in the state’s arid rural northeast corner.
Opponents believe aquifers that would be tapped for the pipeline are not sustainable water sources and draining them would damage local habitats and livelihoods that depend on them.
A rally was held prior to the event, where representatives from the county, Goshute Tribe and others spoke to the crowd prior to heading into the courtroom.
Kyle Roernik, executive director for the Great Basin Water Network, spoke thanking everyone for coming out and standing in solidarity.
“Today we are weighing a question of what is more important for our future State and in the Great Basin, and is that it is a question of what matters more, the special interests or the public interest,” he said. “We care about the future generations, our wildlife, our water, our tribes, the interest of the agricultural and conservation community.”
Chairman Rupert Steel of the Confederate Tribes of the Goshute spoke.
“Proud to be here and say that Southern Nevada Water Authority has some serious challenges, and it would be good for them to pull back their plan and think about other alternatives, rather than destroy the landscape, and fragile environment,” he said.
White Pine County Commissioner Richard Howe said, “White Pine is 100 percent committed in dollars and support of this fight to save our natural resources. To our ranchers, to our community, our county, our water is important to us for our economic future. We have this almost David and Goliath type of hearing happening for the next few days.”
Paul Taggert with the Southern Nevada Water Authority said, “The point I want to make is my clients are not villains, they are governmental employees, they have a mission a direction by the Clark County elected officials to pursue this project and have for many decades.”
Taggert went on to explain that the project wouldn’t have been taken on if it was going to cause a impact to the environment.
“I think you’ll hear a lot of rhetoric, about how bad this project is, how it’s going to destroy the environment, communities, the evidence did not show through weeks of testimony,” he said.
Taggert went on explaining the water SNWA is seeking is unappropriated. “It is the water of the public, including my client, who put in this first application for the water. It’s not used by anyone now, and, you’re prior order you already ruled that we justified the need for the water in Las Vegas.”
Paul Hejmanowski, legal counsel for the Cleve Creek Ranch spoke next.
“With all due respect, I disagree with a great deal of what he said,” Hejmanowski said. “The fundamental difference we are dealing with here today is, expediency there versus the state ability because we believe under your remand instruction, what was necessary, was for them to demonstrate that their project would reach equilibrium in a reasonable frame of time, to preserve and protect the aquafer for future and present generations.
“Instead, he said, we don’t have to deal with ET capture, we don’t have to be limited that way, as long as we know how much water is available, we can pump without ET capture. Which means, under their theory they would be able to draw as much water, as calculated, which guarantees ground water mining, which your honor ruled is against the rule of Nevada over 100 years.”
The hearing carried into the afternoon hours, with legal counsel from Goshute Tribes, Great Basin Water Network and a variance of lawyers in opposition to the proposed pipeline. The hearing reconvened on Wednesday morning.
The Ely Times will have more to this story in next week’s edition.