Question: Should the Southern Nevada Water Authority send water from other counties to Clark County?
No: Good Science Is Good Business
by Ellen Pillard and Jeff Van Ee
Southern Nevada faces unprecedented challenges from drought and rapid growth. The Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) has asked the Congressional delegation to fast-track the tapping and delivery of water from rural Nevada. Little debate and analysis of the Authority’s plans has occurred as this legislation is hastily being moved in Congress.
The legislation creates rights-of-way for water pipelines throughout Lincoln County for SNWA and a private water company, Vidler. Aimed at pumping water from a vast aquifer, this huge and costly development proposal is based on speculative hydrology of this aquifer and the impacts of water withdrawals. Analysis of the economic and environmental costs, alternatives, and possible mitigation measures for environmental impacts has not occurred. One only needs to look at the cost to Los Angeles Department of Water and Power of restoring water to Mono Lake and Owens Valley in nearby California to see how risky pumping ground water is without good science to support it.
Lincoln County’s springs and seeps are home to rare species of Great Basin plants, fish and animals – some found nowhere else on earth. Ranchers and towns in central and eastern Nevada are dependent on ground water. If surface water and shallow wells are affected in Lincoln County by this pumping, rural Nevadans could face drilling new wells and additional expenses in obtaining life-sustaining water. Similarly, springs and other surface flows could disappear.
Sound business practice would be an analysis of the cost/benefit ratio of this major undertaking. The Authority’s own analysis suggests the pipeline would cost a billion dollars or more. Yet, they don’t know how much water this would provide or the impacts of pumping it. Therefore, we suggest a complete hydrologic study of the entire deep-carbonate aquifer to answer these questions.
The quickest and cheapest way to get water to Las Vegas is to use the latest technology for water conservation. The Water Authority is to be commended for its recent interest in water conservation practices. However, a thorough review and implementation of new conservation technologies could produce significant savings at relatively little cost.
A third activity to secure water would be increased efforts to encourage the development of a water-market on the Colorado River to permit Nevada to purchase water from willing sellers.
Requiring these measures is only prudent. We can avoid expensive mistakes in the future by proceeding with the best science and latest technology today.
Yes: It Will Provide Security in Times of Drought
by Patricia Mulroy
The Southern Nevada Water Authority is responsible for meeting our community’s water needs. It does so by developing and managing a portfolio of water resource options. Currently, about 90 percent of the region’s water comes from the Colorado River. Unfortunately, the Colorado is mired in the fifth year of a devastating drought.
While in-state, non-Colorado River water has been a key part of Southern Nevada’s long-term portfolio for many years, development of these resources was decades away because the SNWA negotiated an agreement projected to meet all of our community’s water needs with Colorado River water through 2016. Unfortunately, a drought of unimaginable severity undermined that plan.
What our community needs is an insurance policy, a source of water independent of the Colorado River. The in-state water resource projects will provide much-needed security, reducing our dependence on the river and helping to protect us from future droughts.
Not everyone shares our view of these projects. Rural counties are concerned about impacts to their communities. Ranchers worry about impacts to the area’s hydrology. And environmental groups are focused on what effect groundwater diversions may have on wildlife. These are all reasonable concerns, and it would be wrong to dismiss them.
It is important, however, not to automatically presume that groundwater development is inherently destructive. Thousands of communities rely upon wells for their water supply without causing environmental devastation. The days of Owens Valley are gone; that project was undertaken in an era when the environment wasn’t even considered. Today’s environmental regulations make that scenario an impossibility. Like anything, groundwater development must be managed, but it has been unequivocally proven that monitoring and aquifer-management programs work.
The SNWA is applying for water rights in only a handful of basins, none of which are near towns. Before we can divert a drop of water, the Nevada State Engineer must approve our applications, a process requiring extensive hydrological testing to ensure neither sensitive resources nor other groundwater users are adversely impacted. Beyond that, we are committed to both the environmental compliance process and public participation to ensure all interests are represented.
Conducted responsibly, development of in-state water resources will greatly benefit Southern Nevada by enhancing the stability of the water supply without harming either other communities or the environment. While introduction of the conceptual plan has generated anxiety for some, all we ask is that individuals keep an open mind and participate constructively in the process.