An alliance of environmental and social justice groups told lawmakers Thursday that it would be a mistake to pipe groundwater from rural Nevada to feed growth in Las Vegas, and the city should instead implement stricter conservation measures.
Members of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada presented their case to the Assembly Government Affairs Committee, saying Las Vegas could continue to grow without extracting water from the Great Basin.
The group argued the city could conserve as much water as it plans on extracting from rural Nevada. A pipeline would suck ranchland dry, destroying wildlife habitat and livelihoods, and leave rural economies stagnant, lawmakers were told.
"We feel conservation could make a dent in the problem. We're very conscious of the need in southern Nevada, but want to make sure it's met responsibly," said Jan Gilbert, who represents the alliance.
The Southern Nevada Water Authority is proposing a 250-mile pipeline to take rural groundwater, mainly from the Snake and Spring valleys in White Pine County, to Las Vegas. It could tap as much as 125,000 acre-feet of water, or enough to serve about 230,000 households at the city's current water consumption rate, according to SNWA.
The water agency serves about 400,000 households and is feeling the effects of a seven-year drought on the Colorado River, from which it gets 90 percent of its water, according to Scott Huntley, spokesman for the agency.
"We agree with them that conservation is important issue. But conservation can't solve everything," Huntley said, adding that the agency already has implemented aggressive water conservation measures, and pays $2 per square foot for homeowners to replace lawns.
Ranchers argue there's not much water left to take from rural Nevada.
"A spring that stops rarely ever flows again," said Dean Baker, a lifelong rancher in the Snake Valley, which straddles the Nevada-Utah line. He said he's already observed springs and meadows drying up.
Huntley says the pipeline will not affect ranchers' water rights, and that the pipeline will only take the amount of groundwater that is naturally replenished and goes unused each year. Federal environmental laws would ensure that there aren't adverse impacts, he said.