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Somebody's future is going to dry up, dozens of people testified Friday in a water-rights hearing for a Las Vegas water pipeline.
Will it be the ranchers, small towns and tribes of western Utah and eastern Nevada who fear groundwater pumping from their valleys? Or will it be the casinos and, in better economic times, construction crews that fuel southern Nevada's economy?
Or is there as Vegas water officials assert enough to go around?
Both sides lined up at microphones in four Nevada cities to make their case to Nevada's state engineer, who is considering the Southern Nevada Water Authority's applications for groundwater from Spring Valley and associated aquifers near Ely, Nev. The utility also is seeking water from the state-border-straddling Snake Valley, for which the engineer will conduct a separate hearing next year.
"This is a catastrophic event if this pipeline does not go forth," said Anthony Rogers, a Las Vegas resident who identified himself as an unemployed construction worker. "It will basically shut down Las Vegas. The hotels will not be able to flush their toilets."
A rural Utah farmer from the 70-person west desert enclave of Eskdale countered that pumping groundwater and lowering the water table in the region's interconnected valleys would doom his settlement.
"The water that we pump is essential to our existence," David Surlin said, "because we are an agricultural community."
The hearing was in Carson City, but satellite feeds allowed video testimony from Ely, Caliente and Las Vegas.
The state engineer is considering whether adequate water is available to grant SNWA 120,000 acre-feet of groundwater enough to supply about an equal number of households from Spring, Cave, Dry Lake and Delamar valleys in east-central Nevada. Utah communities and the Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation fear a drawdown in those valleys would also dry up wells on the Utah side.
"We are concerned for our culture, our spirituality, our means of life," said Goshute Tribal Chairman Amos Murphy.
A government study prepared for the Interior Department's consideration of a 275-mile pipeline route suggested valley water tables could sink by 100 to 200 feet.
The Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce, the gaming industry and union workers lined up behind the project. Some noted that Las Vegas and Clark County residents have improved their water conservation to reduce overall use even in the boom years leading up to the 2008 economic crash. They repeated SNWA's assertions that the project is not meant to resume rapid growth, but rather to provide a hedge against future shortages in the Colorado River system.
"A water shortage in the area would have a devastating impact on the gaming and resort industry and consequently the entire state's economy," said Virginia Valentine, president of the Nevada Resort Association.
A Las Vegas ironworker said his union supports the project "for obvious reasons."
Some Las Vegas residents opposed the plan, though, fretting about the reported $15 billion cost with financing or the destruction of rural areas around them.