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Las Vegas Accused of Engineering Massive Water Grab: Is This the Future of the West? [With Photo Slideshow]

Climate change is going to make life harder, water scarcer, and decisions about the future tougher.

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Like all desert developments, it hinges on water. Whittemore has rights to a lot of it — he just doesn’t have an affordable way to get it to Coyote Springs. That is, unless a pipeline would be built nearby him. The odds of that are looking better and better. Whittemore has friends in high places. As George Knapp writes for Las Vegas City Life:

He bought [the land] for $23 million, then sold part of his water rights to Pat Mulroy's Southern Nevada Water Authority for $25 million. Sweet deal, huh? Although you might think the authority would look at Coyote Springs as a competitor for scarce water resources, in practice, the two entities have been bosom buddies from the start. The authority has spent millions of public dollars on water projects that seem to mostly benefit Whittemore's development.

More important, the granddaddy of all public works projects, the proposed rural water grab (aka Pat's Pipeline), which could cost $10 billion or more, would be a major boon for Coyote Springs because it will -- conveniently -- run right alongside the project and bring billions of gallons of rural groundwater to what ranks as one of the driest spots in the driest state in the country. If the pipeline is built (and if the real estate market bounces back), Coyote Springs would be worth a fortune. Without the pipeline, Whittemore would have to build his own water system to bring water from other valleys. The cost would be tremendous, maybe a dealbreaker.

Big Decisions

Baker business owner Terry Marasco has other issues with the water pipeline beside the economic interests and concern for the environment. “It’s a moral and ethical issue,” he said. “Do you destroy vast areas of rural America for the growth of cities?”

So far in the history of our country the answer to that question has been yes. And a resounding yes when it comes to the production of energy — like coal, oil and recently, shale gas. But as our thirst for energy and for water grows, there is less and less of a healthy rural America left — its small towns have been developed or pillaged or economically ravaged so badly that people are fleeing. At what cost to them and the rest of us?

Those of us who live in cities and suburbs have depended on rural America to grow most of our food, and we've depended on the wilderness to replenish our souls. We know that Las Vegas is the economic engine of the state in terms of overall revenue, but what value can we put on a countryside of farmers and ranchers, small businesses, limestone caves, artesian springs, wild horses, migrating birds, endemic fish, and ancient trees?

The future that Las Vegas and the rest of Nevada face is one where climate change is likely to make life harder, water scarcer, and decisions about the future tougher. And it’s a future that will be shared across the Southwest. K. Kaufmann writes for the Desert Sun about the National Climate Assessment Advisory Committee’s findings on climate change will affect the country. In the Southwest, Kaufmann writes: 

Snowpack and streamflow amounts are projected to decline, decreasing water supply for cities, agriculture and ecosystems.

The Southwest produces more than half the nation’s high-value specialty crops, which are irrigation-dependent and particularly vulnerable to extremes of moisture, cold and heat. Reduced yields from increased temperatures and increasing competition for scarce water supplies will displace jobs in some rural communities.

Increasingly, wherever you live in the U.S. this will be a shared problem as water resources and potentially energy resources become strapped, if we continue unchanged on our current trajectory.

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