Major Nevada Water-Pumping Decision Released

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A plan to pump billions of gallons of rural groundwater from a rural valley to Las Vegas was cut to less than half the requested amount and approved Monday by the state's water engineer.

An order issued by state Engineer Tracey Taylor says the Southern Nevada Water Authority, which requested about 91,000 acre-feet of water yearly from Spring Valley, can pump 40,000 acre-feet of water per year for 10 years.

After that, Taylor said SNWA can pump an additional 20,000 acre-feet of water from the valley, near the Utah border in White Pine County, providing that monitoring shows no adverse impacts from the first 10 years of pumping.

During hearings last fall on the pumping plan, proponents had argued that Nevada's "destiny" was at stake. But critics said the advocates had failed to make their case.

Matt Kenna of the Western Environmental Law Center had said his experts showed that the requested 91,000 acre-feet of pumping would likely cause an excessive drawdown of the water table in Spring Valley and lead to "devastating" impacts.

During the hearings, critics likened the SNWA proposal to a Los Angeles water grab that parched California's Owens Valley. The water authority countered that there's no way a repeat of that early-1900s water grab could occur.

While the water authority says about 100,000 acre-feet can be safely pumped each year from the valley, Kenna urged a conservative approach.

Water authority attorney Paul Taggart had argued that the big question is "whether Nevada is going to control its own destiny" or find itself at the mercy of other states unwilling to share some of their Colorado River water. The river currently is the main water source for Las Vegas.

Taggart said other states that draw from the Colorado have developed their own instate water sources, and Nevada must do the same. He added that an interruption of the growth boom in Las Vegas as a result of uncertainty over water would have a harmful statewide impact.

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. 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.

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