Agency Seeks More Rural Nevada Water to Continue Las Vegas Growth

By: Brendan Riley AP
By: Brendan Riley AP

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) - A hearing will be held in late 2009 on a bid by the main water supplier for Las Vegas, already allowed to pump more than 19 billion gallons of water a year from rural Nevada, for another 16 billion gallons from a valley on the state's border with Utah.

The Southern Nevada Water Authority wanted the hearing on the Snake Valley pumping plan to start in January. But SNWA lawyers agreed Tuesday to a delay after being required to file additional documents with state Engineer Tracy Taylor, who has final say on the application.

The delay is fine with opponents of the big project, who argued that a January hearing wouldn't give them enough time to prepare. Hearing officer Susan Joseph-Taylor said an exact hearing time frame would be set at a later date.

SNWA's application for the Snake Valley water is a key element in its efforts to start delivering rural groundwater through a 200-mile-long pipeline network to Las Vegas by 2015.

The authority's eventual goal is to import enough water to serve more than 230,000 homes, in addition to about 400,000 households already getting its water. Cost of its pipeline project has been estimated at anywhere from $2 billion to $3.5 billion.

Foes of the Snake Valley pumping include many ranchers and farmers who fear the loss of their way of life, environmental and conservation groups, several Indian tribes and White Pine County which encompasses part of the valley.

Other opponents include federal agencies such as the National Park Service which has a park near the pumping zone, and Millard County, Utah. Full "interested party" status wasn't granted to all the critics, which means they'll have little involvement in the late-2009 hearing.

Foes of the entire SNWA plan, developed because of concern about
reliability of Colorado River water which has been the main source for Las Vegas, have repeatedly compared it with a Los Angeles water grab that parched California's once-fertile Owens Valley in the early 1900s.

The project is backed by casino executives, developers, union representatives and others who point to water conservation efforts
in Las Vegas and who warn of an economic downturn - beyond the one the state already is experiencing - unless the city gets more water.

In a ruling last week, Taylor granted SNWA just over 6 billion gallons a year of the 11 billion gallons of groundwater it sought from Delamar, Dry Lake and Cave Valleys in Lincoln County, despite warnings from opponents that the pumping could have a catastrophic impact.

SNWA representatives had contended the water authority met all requirements for the pumping from the three valleys and said critics' disaster scenarios were unfounded. The valleys, located between about 75 miles and 125 miles from Las Vegas, are expected to be the first tapped for the agency's massive pipeline project.

Last year, Taylor also granted the water authority the right to pump at least 13 billion gallons of groundwater a year from Spring Valley, located in White Pine County.

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

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