State water hearings wrap up |

State water hearings wrap up

Brendan Riley

CARSON CITY (AP) – The state engineer was urged Monday to approve a plan to pump billions of gallons of rural groundwater to Las Vegas by proponents who said Nevada’s “destiny” is at stake. But critics said the advocates failed to make their case.

The pro and con arguments were aired as the engineer heard closing arguments on the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s bid to get about 91,000 acre-feet of water yearly from Spring Valley, near the Utah border in White Pine County.

Matt Kenna of the Western Environmental Law Center said his experts showed during two weeks of hearings on the plan that it would likely cause an excessive drawdown of the water table in Spring Valley and lead to “devastating” impacts.

During the hearings, critics likened the SNWA proposal to a Los Angeles water grab that parched California’s Owens Valley. The water authority countered that there’s no way a repeat of that early-1900s water grab could occur.

Kenna argued that prior to any final ruling the state should update estimates of the amount of water that can be pumped from the valley while leaving enough to protect existing rights and allowing for future growth.

While the water authority says about 100,000 acre-feet can be safely pumped each year from the valley, Kenna urged a conservative approach. He added the evidence pointed to a safe water yield that could be as low as 70,000 acre-feet. Kenna also said the water authority could step up its water conservation efforts by revising its billing methods to impose higher fees on heavy water users.

He added that Pat Mulroy, the SNWA’s general manager, and others said it wouldn’t be in the public interest to dry up Spring Valley and the state engineer “needs to take them at their word.”

Water authority attorney Paul Taggart said in his closing arguments that the big question is “whether Nevada is going to control its own destiny” or find itself at the mercy of other states unwilling to share some of their Colorado River water. The river currently is the main water source for Las Vegas.

Taggart said other states that draw from the Colorado have developed their own instate water sources, and Nevada must do the same. He added that an interruption of the growth boom in Las Vegas as a result of uncertainty over water would have a harmful statewide impact.

“You can’t put your head in the sand when people are coming,” Taggart said, referring to the influx of newcomers to southern Nevada that has fueled unparalleled development.

Taggart also said that state law says that underground water belongs to the public, adding, “Well, more than 70 percent of the public is asking for this water to come to southern Nevada.”

The water authority’s experts proved that pumping at 19 well sites in Spring Valley wouldn’t turn the area into a desert, Taggart said, adding that existing water rights wouldn’t be hurt if the state granted the right to pump the full 91,000 acre-feet per year.

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.

The 19 groundwater applications for Spring Valley water were filed in 1989. Those proposals are among 33 SNWA applications for rural Nevada water.

State Engineer Tracy Taylor will issue a ruling on the Spring Valley applications after going over the testimony and reviewing more than 170 exhibits.

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