State Schedules Hearing on Nevada Developer's Water Plan

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Another effort by wealthy Reno businessman and powerbroker Harvey Whittemore to get rural Nevada water for a huge development he's building about 50 miles north of Las Vegas is scheduled for a 5-day hearing starting March 31.

Whittemore's Tuffy Ranch Properties LLC filed 54 applications with the state water engineer to change existing underground water rights in Lake Valley from irrigation to domestic use. About 11,000 acre-feet of the water would be for Whittemore's Coyote Springs project, more than 100 miles to the south.

Tim Wilson, the hearing officer for the state water engineer, Tracy Taylor, set the hearing Tuesday after rejecting requests from some of the critics of the plan for more time to prepare their cases.

The applications have been protested by White Pine County and by the federal Bureau of Land Management. Other critics include Louis Benezet of Pioche and Jo Anne Garrett of Baker, both opponents of
efforts to export rural Nevada groundwater.

Benezet said the water transfer plan is one of many efforts to shift groundwater from eastern Nevada south to high-growth areas, and it's not just someone saying, "I'm going to water this field instead of that field" in the same valley.

Whittemore pressed for a hearing starting in March, noting he filed the applications in March 2005. Wilson went along with the request, saying the critics have had "a lot of time" to prepare since then.

Whittemore said after Tuesday's date-setting session that the applications represent "a substantial chunk" of what he needs for Coyote Springs. They amount to more than 20 percent of the estimated 50,000 acre feet of water a year that would eventually be used for the project.

Tuffy Ranch Properties representatives have said approval of the applications won't hurt neighboring ranchers in Lake Valley or even the farms and ranches that Tuffy bought up and operates there. The valley is mainly in Lincoln County, although it stretches north into White Pine County.

Benezet and Garrett have questioned whether there will be enough water for the environment and outlying ranches given the efforts by Whittemore and also by the Southern Nevada Water Authority, which
is planning a big pipeline to carry rural water to Las Vegas.

The water authority's eventual goal is to tap into enough water in rural Nevada to serve more than 230,000 homes, in addition to about 400,000 households already getting the agency's water in the Las Vegas area, one of the fastest growing regions in the nation.

Whittemore plans to build more than 150,000 homes in Coyote Springs, where he already owns about 4,600 acre-feet of water rights. He has predicted the golf-oriented development will produce $100 million a year in tax revenue for every 40,000 homes constructed.

An acre foot of water is 326,000 gallons, almost enough to serve two households for a year.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)