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Reno, Nev. • Crucial hearings to help determine whether billions of gallons of water will be pumped out of aquifers beneath Utah and northern Nevada to fill the thirsty taps of arid Las Vegas are still months away.
But a prehearing last week shows the legal battle over the proposed controversial 285-mile-long pipeline project with a price tag as high as $3.5 billion promises to be a lengthy and contentious one.
The Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) alone plans testimony from more than two dozen witnesses over about three weeks' time to present its case in support of winning the necessary water rights for the project something it once had in hand but lost a year ago when the Nevada Supreme Court sent the matter back to the state water engineer for the new round of hearings beginning in September.
If the authority secures approval of all the rights it is seeking, the pipeline could end up carrying as much as 65 billion gallons of water from the north to the south on an annual basis. Daily flows would total up to 178 million gallons under that scenario enough to cover an area the size of nearly 500 football fields with a new foot of water each day.
That's assuming the conflicting interests in the north and south can agree on the length of a day something the Nevada Division of Water Resources' chief hearing officer wasn't taking for granted at the preconference meeting in a mock courtroom at the National Judicial College on the campus of the University of Nevada, Reno.
"You are all lawyers," Susan Joseph-Taylor said. "You are going to argue what a day means."
They did, for about 10 minutes, before agreeing that a "day" in the context of giving adequate notice on the filing of certain evidence didn't necessarily mean 24 hours. Rather, they decided that a party would serve such notice before the close of business on the previous day.
The 65 billion gallons of water would be enough to support 400,000 households a year.
SNWA's chief opponent is the Great Basin Water Network, an alliance of mostly conservationists and rural leaders that opposes tapping any of the groundwater in the north to fuel more growth in southern Nevada.
Other critics who will be represented at the fall hearings include the LDS Church, three Indian tribes and a pair of counties each in Nevada and Utah.
Important dates in water debate
The parties will present their cases during hearings of the Nevada Legislature in Carson City each weekday from Sept. 26 to Oct. 14, and then again from Oct. 31 to Nov. 18. A special hearing for public comment is scheduled for Oct. 7. The state water engineer's office will accept written comment through Dec. 2.