WASHINGTON (AP)- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is using a massive farm bill moving through Congress to spend $175 million to acquire water for Nevada's desert lakes and restore the Walker River Basin.
The measure is supported by Nevada Republican Sen. John Ensign as part of an effort begun in 2002 to rescue several at-risk lakes that have been drying up in the western part of the state - Walker Lake, Summit Lake and Pyramid Lake. However it was cited by the Agriculture Department on Wednesday as one of several unnecessary pork projects loading up the $290 billion farm bill.
The farm bill passed the House on Wednesday and debate began in the Senate despite a veto threat from President Bush, who has complained it's too expensive and doesn't sufficiently reduce commodity payments.
There were two "yes" votes and one "no" from Nevada's three-member House delegation. Voting "yes" were Democrat Shelley Berkley and Republican Jon Porter, while Republican Dean Heller voted against the bill.
Reid plans to vote in favor of the bill while Ensign has "serious concerns" about it, according to his spokesman, Tory Mazzola.
Reid spokesman Jon Summers said the $175 million was needed to help Walker Lake, which is north of Hawthorne and just south of the Walker River Indian Reservation.
"The reality is the lake is drying up as a result of the combination of drought, climate change and increased usage of water from the lake, so you combine those things and those are the challenges that the lake is facing," Summers said.
Agriculture Department spokesman Keith Williams said in an e-mail to reporters that $200 million Reid earmarked in the 2002 farm bill for Nevada's desert lakes "was used for unrelated purposes."
He did not cite any examples, and Summers disputed the claim.
An accounting on the Bureau of Reclamation Web site included a $1 million expenditure for a fish hatchery in Walker Lake; $70 million for the University of Nevada to acquire water and land in Walker River Basin and administer a natural resources center; $10 million to eradicate tamarisk, an introduced shrub that can interfere with aquatic systems; and $133,000 to a group called Families in Search of the Truth of Fallon to purchase bottled water after arsenic was found in Fallon school water.