Water Hearing Strategy Criticized

By: Brendan Riley AP
By: Brendan Riley AP

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) - A conservation group claimed Monday that a Las Vegas water agency wants to exclude ranchers, Indian tribes, local governments and others from full participation in hearings on the agency's bid for billions of gallons of rural Nevada water.

But a spokesman for the Southern Nevada Water Authority said the claim by the Great Basin Water Network has "nothing to do" with what gets presented at the state water engineer's review of the plan to tap groundwater in Snake Valley, more than 250 miles north of Las Vegas.

State Engineer Tracy Taylor has scheduled a July 15 prehearing conference on efforts by SNWA to pump up to 16 billion gallons of water a year from Snake Valley, which straddles the Nevada-Utah
border. The pumping would be within Nevada's White Pine County.

Steve Erickson of the Great Basin Water Network said more than a dozen groups and individuals from both Nevada and Utah want Taylor
to grant them "interested persons" status so they can fully participate in the hearings, but SNWA attorneys oppose the request.

"They want to keep the public out of this process as much as possible," Erickson said, adding, "And this from an agency that is unelected and unaccountable, and whose books are hidden from view. It's outrageous."

Scott Huntley, public information manager for SNWA, said the conservation group sued the state engineer over the same issue in an earlier hearing on a plan to pump water from another valley and lost at the state district court level. That ruling has been appealed to the Nevada Supreme Court.

"This is not a new issue," said Huntley, adding, "All of the issues the petitioners would raise will be addressed at the hearing anyway ... so additional participants won't actually add technical data to the case."

Critics of the pumping include some ranchers whose families have lived for generations in the sparsely populated area, in which Nevada's only national park is located.

Erickson said those seeking "interested persons" status include Salt Lake and Utah County governments in Utah; a regional water group representing eight rural Nevada counties, two Shoshone tribes and the Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation.

The applications are for the use of enough water to supply more than 170,000 homes. Taylor will have final say over how much groundwater the authority can safely pump from the valley to supply growth in southern Nevada.

SNWA officials say they already have enough water to justify construction of a pipeline network, at a cost of up to $3.5 billion, to carry rural Nevada water to Las Vegas.

Following a hearing in 2006, Taylor granted the authority permission to eventually pump nearly 20 billion gallons a year from nearby Spring Valley, also in White Pine County.

In February, Taylor held a hearing on the authority's plans to pump more than 11 billion gallons of groundwater a year from three valleys in central Lincoln County. No ruling has been issued yet in that case.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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