U.S. Water News Online
LAS VEGAS -- Nevada officials recently welcomed a federal
judge's decision to wait until other lawsuits are decided before he
rules whether the state can shut off water for the planned Yucca
Mountain nuclear waste dump.
``This is complementary to our effort and quite supportive,'' said
Bob Loux, who coordinates Nevada's anti-dump efforts. ``It recognizes
that substantive issues are going to be decided in the court in
Stephen Bartell, the Department of Justice lawyer handling the
water issue for the federal government, declined comment.
U.S. District Judge Roger Hunt said in his ruling that he would
wait until the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia
Circuit decides a range of issues about the legality of the nuclear
dump 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas before he decides whether the
state must supply water to it.
``It seems prudent. ... that this court avoid the danger of having
the tail wag the dog,'' Hunt said. His 12-page ruling was received by
lawyers on both sides.
Water is crucial to the planned nuclear waste repository approved
last year by President Bush and Congress.
The Energy Department plans to entomb 77,000 tons of the nation's
most radioactive waste in tunnels bored 1,000 feet beneath a desert
ridge at the edge of the vast Nevada Test Site. The arid site
averages less than 7 inches of precipitation annually and in recent
years has experienced drought.
Hunt referred to five other federal lawsuits the state has pending
against the project. They challenge the science, safety standards,
site guidelines, the approval process and the constitutionality of
forcing one state to accept the nation's waste.
The judge noted those cases are due to be argued together in
September in Washington, D.C.
``The judge is saying a couple of things,'' said Marta Adams, the
deputy state attorney general arguing the water case. ``One, there
are significant issues to be answered in the District of Columbia.
Second, he affirmed the right of the state to regulate water.''
On the latter issue, Hunt extended indefinitely an agreement under
which the state is supplying the federal government enough potable
water at Yucca Mountain for worker facilities and emergencies -- but
not enough for building and operating the repository.
The judge also instructed the state engineer, Hugh Ricci, to hold
another hearing soon on the federal government's request to pump 140
million gallons of water per year for the project.
No date was set for that hearing, Adams said.
Hunt said that although the state has the right to allocate water
reserves, Ricci abused his discretion to deny the federal request
with a sweeping declaration last year that construction and operation
of a nuclear repository would be ``detrimental to the state's public
The judge also provided a cautionary note about the public
interest to the federal government.
``The language, 'threatens to prove detrimental to the public
interest,' suggests ... the safety of Nevada's citizens,'' Hunt said.
``Hopefully, the United States is not taking the position that the
'safety' of a state's citizens is pre-empted by the 'interest' of the
national government to have a single nuclear waste repository.''
The state and the federal government have been fighting over water
for Yucca Mountain for more than three years. In February 2000,
Ricci's predecessor shut the tap, and the federal government sued.
Hunt at first dismissed the suit, but the 9th U.S. Circuit Court
of Appeals in San Francisco ordered him to rehear it.
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