U.S. Water News Online
CARSON CITY, Nev. -- Roderick McKenzie and other central
Nevada farmers fear booming Las Vegas is going to suck their farmland
They are fighting a plan to pump billions of gallons of water
south across the desert for use in the fast-growing Las Vegas area,
saying it would eat up groundwater supplies and spell the end for
ranchers and farmers in rural valleys.
"It's not a smart thing to let the state engineer go into a valley
and take water that's probably going somewhere else," McKenzie said.
"Once the water table starts to drop it will continue to drop."
The Southern Nevada Water Authority wants to pump more than 11.3
billion gallons of groundwater a year from the Delamar, Dry Lake and
Cave valleys, all in central Lincoln County and along the route of a
proposed water pipeline that will stretch 250 miles across the state
like a giant straw.
That amount of water, expanded through reuse and other means,
could supply more than 100,000 homes in the fast-growing Las Vegas
area, authorities say.
But McKenzie, who heads Lund Irrigation & Water Co., said
water under nearby Cave Valley can be linked to subsurface water in
the Lund area and a big drawdown in one area could hurt the other.
He is worried because ranchers in his company run cattle in Cave
Valley in the summer and fall and depend on the springs.
"That's the whole basis of our protest," he said. "It's not
knowing where the water is coming from in the first place, and not
knowing where it's going."
The state's share of the Colorado River cannot sustain continued
growth around Las Vegas, home to about three of every four Nevada
residents. Drought has placed a greater strain on the river's supply.
After initially opposing it, Lincoln County has agreed to go along
with the water authority plan, which is part of a $2 billion water
pipeline project to tap into water around Nevada. The agreement
states which groundwater basins in the county can be developed.
"This is very important because it's a critical part of our
overall groundwater project," said water authority spokesman J.C.
Davis said Lincoln County's support will help during the state
engineer's hearings on the plan. A prehearing conference has been set
for Aug. 28 by the state engineer and the water authority has asked
for Jan. 14-18 hearings.
Davis said the pumping will only take the amount of groundwater
that is naturally replenished each year in the valleys. But opponents
include the federal Bureau of Land Management, the National Park
Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Ranchers and other landowners who oppose the plan are receiving
support from groups such as the Western Environmental Law Center,
Great Basin Water Network and the Progressive Leadership Alliance of
Nevada, among others.
The water authority's theory on available groundwater is
challenged by Susan Lynn of the Great Basin Water Network, who said
the water "recharge" in the area is not substantial and pumping will
dry up springs there and in adjacent areas.
"They don't call it Dry Lake Valley for nothing," Lynn said. "This
is just simply mining of water. Once it's gone, it's gone."
The water authority's eventual goal is to tap into enough water in
rural Nevada to serve more than 230,000 homes, besides about 400,000
households already getting the agency's water in the Las Vegas area,
one of the fastest growing regions in the nation.
The agency hopes to begin delivering the rural groundwater to Las
Vegas by 2015.
Economic analyst Jeremy Aguero said an inadequate water supply
would have wide-ranging consequences, including a slowdown in
investments and construction, reduced public services and other
problems that could ripple across Nevada.
"Imagine a situation in which developers believed tomorrow
couldn't be a better day because development would be stalled by
insufficient water resources," Aguero said.
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