During the blitzkrieg bombing of London in World War II, Winston Churchill rallied the British to stand up against tyranny and "never surrender," a defining moment in history. In refusing to surrender to the Las Vegas water grab, Gov. Gary Herbert summoned his inner Churchill, opening the door Wednesday for a defining moment in Utah history.
While the aerial battle over London was a great victory, World War II was far from won. So it is with the Las Vegas water grab. The governor's decision is a great victory and we applaud him for it, but much work remains to be done by all Utah residents.
Sin City's power brokers, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Southern Nevada Water Authority's Pat Mulroy, still have their fangs in Great Basin water and they will undoubtedly reappear like vampires in the dark of night. Herbert's action alone will not drive a stake through the heart of this ecological nightmare.
Congressional legislation, stealthily engineered by Reid, funneled your tax dollars to the SNWA for acquisition of water rights making Nevada's water grab possible. We will need the help of Utah's entire congressional delegation to derail Reid's next move.
In contrast to Herbert, members of Utah's congressional delegation have yet to show a single spine among them. Thousands of phone calls and emails certainly twisted the governor into the right decision. Now that effort needs to be duplicated, targeting Utah's members of Congress.
An important ally in this long war emerged this past week. Physicians for Social Responsibility, a national scientific and public health protection organization with over 40,000 physicians, citizen members and activists, thanked Herbert for refusing to sign an agreement that would have allowed Nevada to suck water from western Utah's Snake Valley aquifer and pipe it to Las Vegas, a plan that could turn arid western Utah into a dust bowl that would threaten the Wasatch Front. The doctors also asked Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval to abandon the entire Great Basin pumping scheme.
"Creation of a significant, new source of particulate pollution is acknowledged by virtually every independent evaluation of the project. The public health impact to the people of Utah would be enormous, especially as they already suffer from severe particulate pollution spikes," said Dr. Alan Lockwood, an expert on particulate pollution and a board member of PSR.
"It is very possible, if not likely, that some of the Great Basin dust blanketing residents of the Western United States, Utah in particular, could create more "downwinder" victims because of the radioactivity still present in that dust," said Dr. John Rachow, a member of the PSR's health and radiation committee.
Erionite exposure is an additional potential health threat from this project. Erionite is a natural mineral in the same family as asbestos, but is hundreds of times more toxic. The Great Basin is uniquely suited to the formation of erionite and Nevada has more known deposits than any other state.
Dr. Jeff Patterson president of PSR, said Westerners should be worried because there is no evidence of any serious attempt to determine if erionite exists in the same areas that would be "de-watered by the proposed Las Vegas pipeline and would be kicked up in the particulate pollution. Erionite can cause serious lung disease and a highly lethal cancer called mesothelioma."
The Physicians for Social Responsibility have joined the Utah Medical Association and Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment in opposing the pipeline because of consequent dust pollution. It's time for Las Vegas to surrender to common decency and abandon the strategy that it can victimize others for its growth aspirations.
Brian Moench is president of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment and a member of the Union of Concerned Scientists.