The more research that's done on Southern Nevada Water Authority's ecologically destructive plan to drain valleys in northern Nevada and western Utah, the more it looks like a potential disaster for both states.
By now, considering what scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey and others have found, Utah Division of Natural Resources Director Mike Styler's early willingness to simply roll over and let SNWA take our water seems, at best, premature and, at worst, irresponsible.
The water authority, whose mission is to supply water to Las Vegas homes and casinos, has applied for rights to more than 130 wells, including some in Utah's Snake Valley, to take as much as 65 billion gallons annually southward in a 285-mile long pipeline. Fortunately, the Nevada Supreme Court stopped the rush toward that precipice by invalidating SNWA's claims and calling for more evidence to be presented at hearings in September.
Opponents of the proposal include The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which operates two large ranches in the area of nearby Spring Valley; conservation groups including The Sierra Club, Trout Unlimited and the Utah Rivers Council; individual ranchers who have formed a protest group; three Indian tribes; two counties in Nevada and two in Utah; the National Park Service, which is worried about ecosystems in the Great Basin National Park; and a coalition called the Great Basin Water Network.
They cite early scientific studies indicating that the water grab for the pipeline would drain more from the valley aquifers than could be replenished. The future of that huge area of fragile vegetation could be a replay of what happened in California's Owens Valley, where farmland was drained decades ago to slake the thirst of Los Angeles. That valley became a Western dust bowl, and if SNWA were granted its requests, the dust from a parched Snake Valley and its environs would waft into the Salt Lake Valley, causing our already toxic air to become even more clogged.
SNWA Director Pat Mulroy has tried everything from wheedling to threatening to get Utah to agree to sacrifice its water to support growth in Las Vegas. But when she failed to convince judges in her own state, her tactics lost momentum. We can only hope that the courts and attorneys, who are already arguing over definitions in prehearings, will slow the process enough for opponents to gather even more convincing evidence that the answer to Las Vegas' water problems shouldn't be solved by destroying ecosystems hundreds of miles away.