Debate continues on water supply |

Debate continues on water supply

Brendan Riley

CARSON CITY (AP) – Advocates of a plan to pump billions of gallons of groundwater from rural Nevada to booming Las Vegas spent hours Thursday trying to discredit reports of an expert fighting the plan – and got a warning from a state hearing panel to move on.

Attorneys Paul Taggart and Michael Van Zandt, representing the Southern Nevada Water Authority, grilled hydrologist Tom Meyers at length during the second week of hearings on the SNWA request to draw more than 90,000 acre-feet of groundwater from Spring Valley.

The questioning prompted Tracy Taylor, the state water engineer who must make a final decision on the pumping plan, to tell the lawyers to stop “pounding on uncertainties” in Meyers’ projections on available water in the valley.

Susan Joseph-Taylor, the hearing officer on the case, said the data from Meyers is “as uncertain as anyone else’s.” She added that models that simulate water supply can’t be given much weight absent more specifics about the valley near the Nevada-Utah border.

“I don’t know if we’re doing anybody any good in any of these hearings with all this modeling testimony,” Joseph-Taylor added.

Meyers maintains that SNWA’s plan would take too much water out of Spring Valley and damage existing groundwater, spring and surface water rights that already total more than 70,000 acre-feet per year.

SNWA contends that the perennial yield, or the amount of water that can be safely pumped on an annual basis, from the valley, located in White Pine County, is about 100,000 acre-feet, which is more than what it’s seeking.

The Spring Valley plan is a main element of a $2 billion plan to send more than 180,000 acre-feet of water a year from rural valleys to southern Nevada. SNWA hopes to expand that through reuse and other means to about 300,000 acre-feet a year. That’s enough water to supply several hundred thousand households.

Advocates of the plan say a drought has cut heavily into southern Nevada’s share of Colorado River water, mandating the need for other sources within the state. They also warn that any indication that Las Vegas might not get the water it needs to deal with growth could scare off investors and lead to an economic slowdown that would affect the entire state.

The water authority is seeking state approval for 19 groundwater applications it filed in Spring Valley in 1989. Those proposals are among 33 applications for rural water.

Taylor will issue a ruling after weighing the testimony and reviewing more than 170 exhibits submitted by the SNWA. Even if the various groundwater applications are granted soon, SNWA has said the water is unlikely to reach the Las Vegas Valley before 2015.

The overall pumping plan has caused concern for some rural officials, ranchers, conservationists and even Utah officials and the Mormon Church. Utah officials protested because some wells would be in valleys that straddle the Nevada-Utah border. The church owns water rights in Spring Valley and wants to ensure they’re not harmed.

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