U.S. Water News Online
CARSON CITY, Nev.-- A key witness endorsed a bid to pump
billions of gallons of groundwater from rural Nevada to booming Las
Vegas -- but agreed under questioning that state law bars approval of
pumping that would interfere with existing rights.
Mike Turnipseed, a former conservation agency chief and state
water engineer, also agreed under repeated questioning from a hearing
officer that Nevada law doesn't make municipal use the highest and
best use of groundwater.
Susan Joseph-Taylor, the hearing officer for the state engineer's
office, focused on the laws during the second week of hearings on the
Southern Nevada Water Authority request to draw more than 90,000 acre
feet of groundwater from Spring Valley, in White Pine County.
The Spring Valley plan is a main element of a $2 billion plan to
send more than 180,000 acre feet of water a year from rural valleys
to southern Nevada. The SNWA hopes to expand that through reuse and
other means to about 300,000 acre feet a year. That's enough water to
supply several hundred thousand households.
During the testimony the SWNA had promised to shut off any
approved wells in Spring Valley, near the Nevada-Utah border, if they
conflicted with existing rights and if the state engineer demanded a
Turnipseed, responding to Joseph-Taylor's questions, said he knew
of no state engineer's shutdown order under such circumstances. That
prompted the hearing officer to say there may be a promise to stop
pumping but given the state's history "does it really ring true?"
The exchanges occurred as Turnipseed testified for several hours
in support of the SNWA pumping plan aimed at ensuring Las Vegas has
adequate water for continued growth.
Turnipseed at one point said municipal water agencies should be
given "more latitude" than other applicants for water-pumping rights.
Joseph-Taylor then repeatedly asked him to describe applicable
statutes, and Turnipseed finally said, "Nowhere in Nevada law does it
say that municipal use is the highest and best use."
At another point, Joseph-Taylor asked whether the law states that
the engineer can grant pumping rights if there's a way to mitigate
problems created for existing wells, or whether it states an
application can't be granted if it's going to interfere with the
"The latter," Turnipseed said.
Advocates of the plan say a drought has cut heavily into southern
Nevada's share of Colorado River water, mandating the need for other
sources within the state. They also warn that any indication that Las
Vegas might not get the water it needs to deal with growth could
scare off investors and lead to an economic slowdown that would
affect the entire state.
The water authority is seeking state approval for 19 groundwater
applications it filed in Spring Valley in 1989. Those proposals are
among 33 applications for rural water.
State Engineer Tracy Taylor will issue a ruling after weighing the
testimony and reviewing more than 170 exhibits submitted by the SNWA.
Even if the various groundwater applications are granted soon, the
SNWA has said the water is unlikely to reach the Las Vegas Valley
The overall pumping plan has caused concern for some rural
officials, ranchers, conservationists and even Utah officials and the
Mormon Church. Utah officials protested because some wells would be
in valleys that straddle the Nevada-Utah border. The church owns
water rights in Spring Valley and wants to ensure they're not harmed.
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