Las Vegas Accused of Engineering Massive Water Grab: Is This the Future of the West? [With Photo Slideshow]
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Kevin Grange writes about GBNP for National Parks Conservation Association, “With more than 77,000 mountainous acres, five distinct habitats, 71 kinds of mammals, 18 types of reptiles, and 800 different plant species, the Great Basin contains a stunning diversity of flora and fauna. “
What would happen to the valleys marked for water withdrawal by the SNWA pipeline? There are four valleys already approved and the fate of Snake Valley -- home to Baker Ranch, Marasco’s business and Great Basin National Park -- has yet to be decided. Because Snake Valley extends into Utah, the decision on how much water to take awaits an agreement between Nevada and Utah officials. “It is a momentary stay of execution against that valley, but it could be rescinded at any moment and the people there know it,” said Bob Fulkerson, the state director and cofounder of Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada (PLAN).
Even if water is not taken directly from the valley, it could still be affected by pumping from neighboring valleys -- or from dust if the Owens Valley prophecy holds true. And it could. Even the building of the pipeline would require a lot of water. “It is estimated that between 5.5 and 8.7 million gallons of construction water would be needed for every mile of pipeline,” the BLM’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) says. “Approximately one water supply well would be needed every 10 miles along the pipeline alignment, and would need to be capable of delivering up to 800 gallons per minute. Impacts associated with the construction of water supply wells could result in localized drawdown effects.”
And that’s just construction. The drawdown effects of the actual pumping of nearly 85,000 acre-feet of water a year could be significant as well. According to the BLM’s EIS, “At the full buildout plus 75 years time-frame, there are two distinct drawdown areas. The northern drawdown area encompasses most of valley floor in Spring Valley, southern Snake Valley, and northern Hamlin Valley. The southern drawdown area extends across the Delamar, Dry Lake, and Cave valleys in an elongate north-south direction and extends into the eastern margin of Pahranagat Valley and northwestern margin of Lower Meadow Valley Wash.”
And over time these two drawdown areas could merge into one long, very dry area approximately 190 miles north-south and 55 miles east-west. If the water is drawn down far enough, the desert vegetation’s tenuous hold on life will be quickly relinquished, and with it, the soil it holds in place. Cue dust storms!
The SNWA believes that with the plan that’s been approved by the State Engineer there won’t be any impacts – “it’s all about how you make the withdrawals and where you make those withdrawals,” said SNWA’s J.C. Davis.
Others disagree. The Center for Biological Diversity has been litigating against the pipeline, fearing it would be “an epic environmental disaster.” The organization issued a statement saying, “The project’s ‘environmental impact statement’ reveals that more than 137,000 acres of wildlife habitat will be permanently destroyed or changed because of the lowering of groundwater tables — by up to 200 feet in many areas. This will drive declines in species like mule deer, Rocky Mountain elk, sage grouse and Bonneville cutthroat trout. At most urgent risk will be species associated with the springs and wetlands that will dry up as the water beneath them is sucked away.”
Tod Williams, a park ranger in charge of resource management at GBNP said that pumping in Snake Valley could impact several riparian areas of the park, but at this time it looks like the park is not fighting the project. “In 2006, Mulroy neutralized the most significant source of opposition when she struck a deal with the U.S. Department of the Interior, which was worried that the project could harm springs in three national wildlife refuges and Great Basin National Park,” Matt Jenkins wrote for High Country News. “The government agreed to drop its protests in exchange for a promise from the Water Authority to fund a program that is now monitoring groundwater levels and the project's potential effects on wildlife.”