A plan to pump billions of gallons of rural groundwater from a rural Nevada valley to thirsty, booming Las Vegas was cut to less than half the requested amount and approved Monday by the state's water engineer.
An order issued by state Engineer Tracy Taylor says the Southern Nevada Water Authority, which requested about 91,000 acre-feet of water yearly from Spring Valley, can pump 40,000 acre-feet of water per year for 10 years.
After that, Taylor said the authority can pump an additional 20,000 acre-feet of water from the valley, near the Utah border in White Pine County, providing that monitoring shows no adverse impacts from the first 10 years of pumping.
Taylor also said that pumps will have to be shut off if existing wells and other existing water rights in Spring Valley suffer from the SNWA activity. The engineer rejected requests by opponents for more study before any pumping starts, but did order annual monitoring reports.
Authority spokesman Scott Huntley said no appeal of the order was planned, adding, "We find the decision is conservative but very reasonable" and the big water agency will "definitely" move forward with its water-pipeline project.
"This certainly justifies moving forward," Huntley said, adding, "Obviously, we asked for about 91,000 acre-feet, but we can't say the ruling is incorrect or wrong. It just seems to us to be a reasonable, decent ruling."
Susan Land of the Great Basin Water Network, which had opposed the original pumping request, termed the decision "a victory of sorts" and questioned whether the massive pumping project remained financially feasible.
"My sense is they are going to have to rethink this project," Land said. "This jacks the price of their pipeline way up. Right now, it doesn't seem very cost-effective."
Allen Biaggi, state conservation and natural resources director, termed Taylor's 56-page decision "very significant" for Nevada, adding that the engineer based his ruling "on Nevada water law, sound science and the public interest."
During hearings last fall on the pumping plan, proponents had argued that Nevada's "destiny" was at stake. But critics said the advocates had failed to make their case.
Matt Kenna, of the Western Environmental Law Center, had said his experts showed that the requested 91,000 acre-feet of pumping would likely cause an excessive drawdown of the water table in Spring Valley and lead to "devastating" impacts.
During the hearings, critics likened the water authority's 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.
While the water authority said about 100,000 acre-feet can be safely pumped each year from the valley, Kenna urged a conservative approach.
Water authority attorney Paul Taggart had argued 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.
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.
Other Nevada water issues
WHAT: Pre-hearing meetings at the state Division of Water Resources on protests filed against Douglas and Lyon County officials and area developers by the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe and Churchill county.
• hearings on the Douglas County portion of the river begin at 10 a.m. today
• hearings on the Lyon County portion begin at 2 p.m. today
WHERE: 901 S. Stewart St., Suite 2002, Carson City
CALL: (775) 684-2800
On the Net
Spring Valley Ruling: