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Water pressure: Utah should be in no hurry to OK Vegas plan

Published July 10, 2006 12:00 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2006, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

What happens in Las Vegas, they say, stays in Las Vegas.

But what gets piped into Las Vegas, to be poured on its ballooning number of lawns and golf courses, is much more than an individual's guilty pleasure.

The potential threat to the economic and ecological underpinnings of a wide area along the Utah-Nevada border is huge, and thus decisions about sending large amounts of water to the thirsty city are very much our business.

Thus Utah officials should be very deliberate about the process by which they will, or will not, agree to the Southern Nevada Water Authority's plan to siphon 25,000 acre-feet of water from the already dusty Snake and Spring valleys near Great Basin National Park.

Reports that Utah officials are under pressure to move the process along, to come up with at least a framework for an agreement as soon as September, are troubling. That is particularly so in the wake of a recent study by the U.S. Geological Survey that suggests the plan could cause significant environmental damage.

The 200-mile pipeline envisioned by SNWA is described by its creators as something that wouldn't really hurt the few ranchers and other residents of Utah's West Desert area. Either that, or we are expected not to care whether it hurts that very small population, or not to see that even a slight disruption of the existing water table could cause a serious ripple effect through the whole area.

There is a lot of speculation and rumor involved in this matter. They include the reasonable concern that Nevada's Harry Reid, minority leader of the U.S. Senate and father of a SNWA board member, is putting pressure on Utah to agree to the Vegas plan.

And that leads to the justified, if so far imagined, concern that Utah officials may parlay that into Reid's assistance with ecologically unsound plans to stimulate development in southwest Utah and pipe massive amounts of water there from Lake Powell.

What we need now is less politicial gamesmanship and more scientific research, which Utah has the power and the need to demand.

The potential for a serious mistake in this matter is huge, and applying a rubber stamp to the process would be the furthest thing from responsible governing.




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