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Pumping water out of west desert aquifers to pipe to Las Vegas will hurt plant and animal life as well as agriculture in Utah's Snake Valley near the Nevada state line. But it also will harm air quality along the Wasatch Front.
Those were among the comments taken by officials from the Bureau of Land Management on Thursday evening at the Salt Lake International Center, where the agency sought input on its draft Environmental Impact Statement.
Steve Erickson, of the Great Basin Water Network, wondered aloud why no one from the Utah congressional delegation was present.
The project has major impacts on the districts of Reps. Jason Chaffetz and Rob Bishop, Erickson said.
"It's about time someone ask Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee when they will raise a finger for agriculture in the west desert," he said. "We have a collective failure of political leadership in the state of Utah."
At issue is whether BLM will grant rights of way to the Southern Nevada Water Authority for various pipelines to carry water from eastern Nevada basins to Las Vegas. The aquifers in question cross into Utah.
Whether the Southern Nevada Water Authority has right to the water has yet to be determined by the Nevada water engineer.
Among the 30 participants in the public hearing was Randy Parker, CEO, Utah Farm Bureau.
"We have heartburn with this," he said in an interview. "We don't think supplying Las Vegas with water from aquifers that flow into Utah is supportable. There are too many unanswered questions, and I don't think we want to gamble with the future of the communities in the west desert."
Rupert Steele, a member of the Goshute Tribe, told BLM officials that the draft EIS does not address the recharge rates of the aquifers if 177,000 acre-feet is pumped out of them per year as proposed by the Southern Nevada Water Authority.
"Taking water resources away from its source should not be allowed," Steele said. "This will leave a sad legacy of environmental destruction."
Pumping water out of aquifers that feed Utah's west desert will lead to increased air pollution along the Wasatch Front, said Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon.
"Groundwater drawdown can generate dust and pollution," he said. "We already live in a non-attainment area in Salt Lake County. The federal government has already told us our air is not clean enough."
The BLM's draft EIS estimates the pumping project would add 24,122 tons of windblown dust a year into the air during the project's first 75 years.
The draft EIS also estimates that groundwater discharges to surface evaporation and transpiration by plants would be reduced by 28 percent in Snake Valley during the first 75 years of the project.
But Erickson said he believes the draft EIS underestimates the impacts of the 306-mile pipeline project that Southern Nevada Water Authority says will cost some $3.5 billion.
Erickson said the project could cost five times that much.
"We believe there are enough impacts for the BLM to uphold its responsibility to public lands" and not allow the pipeline, he said.
Check it out, comment
I More information on the BLM draft Environmental Impact Statement is available at http://www.blm.gov/5W5C. The BLM will take written comments on the draft EIS until Oct. 11.