Sending rural water to Vegas a troubling precedent

So Las Vegas gets the water it's been seeking from White Pine County, at least a good percentage of it, and environmentalists mark it a victory. Problem solved?

Not quite.

The state water engineer gave approval for Vegas to pump 40,000 of the 91,000 acre feet it had been requesting, but that's only a short-term solution for the rapidly growing city. It's expected to grow by more than a million people by 2020.

Where's the water going to come from to support all that growth? No one seems to know, but there are plenty of rural counties that should be expecting calls following Monday's ruling.

The plan to pump water from White Pine County is not without its flaws, either, even if some opponents are relieved the entire amount wasn't granted. If monitoring shows a dramatic impact on the water table, what happens then? Would it really be that easy to just turn off the tap in Vegas, where people will have become dependent on its uninterrupted flow.

During his campaign, Gov. Gibbons called for further study before any plan would be approved.

That made sense. But doing the study while the water is being withdrawn could create irreversible problems.

There is little question that Las Vegas needs the water, and there's no ignoring the fact that a downturn in the city's economy would equate to a downturn statewide. Yet what's the permanent solution to the Las Vegas water problem? Nobody seems to know for sure, but it's clearly not going to come from the Colorado River, which already supplies 90 percent of the city's water.

Nor should it be expected to come entirely from rural Nevada, even if that's the message that was sent this week.


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