Farming in Callao

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Review: Desert Wars - Water and the West

Desert Wars - Water and the West premiered September 25 at 8 PM and again September 27 at 11 PM with an encore Sunday 10-1-06 at 3 PM. You can find details and background at KUED.

Overall, the documentary was fair and balanced. Several people commented that Snake Valley residents spoke to the issues of environmental damage to Snake Valley while the Las Vegas spokespeople mostly said, "We need lots of water and you have to give it to us." While Snake Valley was represented by residents, with some support from Governor Huntsman and his head of natural resources, typical Las Vegas citizens were not interviewed. (Some polls indicate that Las Vegans are opposed to the side effects of growth -- congestion, pollution, crime.) The Las Vegas representatives were shills of the deep-pocketed and powerful gaming and land development industries.

A couple of points need addressing. If Snake Valley residents had been reinterviewed, after the Las Vegas representatives, we could have more adequately dealt with them in our interviews.

What Goes to Vegas Stays in Vegas

Once a pipeline costing billions is constructed and water starts flowing south, the political, legal, and financial pressure to keep it flowing will be overwhelming. It will be impossible to stop, regardless of impacts in Snake Valley. Once a municipality has become used to a water source, even if on a trial basis while the aquifer is being tested, that water source is all but guaranteed to continue flowing.

Come Sit At Our Table

A SNWA mantra from the Las Vegas boosters, running throughout the documentary, was "We've tried to get them to sit at the table with us." SNWA has asked Nevada's White Pine County and Ely City to sit at the table. They offered money, data sharing, monitor wells, and a seat at powerless monitoring/mitigation committees. But only if they first signed an agreement withdrawing water rights protests and agreed to become pipeline cheerleaders. The amount of money offered to White Pine County was not enough to hire hydrologists and other advisors to make their seat at the table meaningful. Because the county and city were less than underwhelmed by the generosity and sincerity of SNWA, they are now branded as uncooperative, obstructionist, stubborn, and immature (In the documentary Hal Rothman, history professor at UNLV, said Snake Valley ranchers should grow up and come to the table).

As for Utah residents of Snake Valley, we have not heard of any SNWA offers to meet with us, except second hand through news stories. They prefer to sic Harry Reid with threats to link the Washington County Lands Bill with Snake Valley or to rescind congressional authorization for a UT-Nevada water sharing agreement (which would force Utah to go to federal court to protect Snake Valley rights and resources).

Documentary Sequel

Desert Wars was filmed and edited prior to the Nevada State Engineer hearings on SNWA applications for 91,000 acre feet of water rights in Spring Valley, the basin west of Spring Valley. Prior to that hearing SNWA was able to cut a deal with four federal agencies in the Department of the Interior. As a result, those agencies dropped their protests to SNWA's applications in exchange for a vague and, according to some, inadequate promise to closely monitor and mitigate impacts caused by SNWA's pumping, should it begin.

Spring Valley is the centerpiece of SNWA's pipeline proposal, supplying half the total amount of 180,000 acre feet SNWA wants to pump from White Pine County and Lincoln County. The Nevada Engineer must decide on the Spring Valley applications and schedule a hearing about SNWA's Snake Valley applications. The Spring Valley stipulation agreement has been hailed as a pattern for any future agreements dealing with the water export scheme. Rumor has it, however, that the federal agencies, particularly the National Park Service, have more at stake in Snake Valley than they did in Spring Valley. Great Basin National Park lies in the southern part of Snake Valley and Fish Springs National Wildlife Refuge is in the north end. Most of Snake Valley is in Utah but some is in Nevada, particularly the Park and the town of Baker.

It might make a fascinating documentary to investigate how this stipulation agreement was crafted. Was there political pressure applied from Washington, DC? Why was it so necessary for the Department of Interior to get an agreement between all the agencies as a group instead of letting them approach negotiations on their own, since each has a unique mandate. How did SNWA get a virtual veto over placement of monitor wells? Why does the agreement have no trigger mechanisms when impacts are discovered.

Since the stipulation agreement was done with no public scrutiny, perhaps the followup documentary could be called, "Desert Wars - Covert Operations."

Who is watching the federal agencies?

A New York Times editorial -- A Fresh Start for the Gunnison River (09-30-06) -- lamented an agreement entered into by the National Park Service (under pressure from then Department of Interior [DOI] chief Gale Norton) relinquishing water rights in Black Canyon of the Gunnison River National Park. Fortunately, Judge Clarence Brimmer voided the agreement as "“arbitrary, capricious and an abuse of discretion."

The Park Service was willing to cede water rights in aid of land development upstream along Colorado's Front Range. The agreement would have eliminated "peak flow" -- a cyclical, higher-than-normal flow that helps keep streams and rivers healthy. The agreement was negotiated without public scrutiny, which was the basis of Judge Brimmer'’s decision.

The editorial ends: "The agreement was also one of the clearest examples of the Bush administration's willingness to ignore science in favor of politics. Discarding it was the right thing to do, but it would have been far better if Ms. Norton and the National Park Service had paid attention to the conclusions of their own scientists in the first place."

Here we go again

What does this have to do with Snake Valley's fight against the scheme to export water to Las Vegas? In the opening moments of hearings just completed, concerning water rights applications in neighboring Nevada basin Spring Valley, SNWA announced a stipulation agreement with the DOI in behalf of four agencies: National Park Service (NPS), Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA).

That agreement also was completed without public scrutiny. The Goshute Tribe, based in Ibapah, Utah rightfully expressed anger about not being consulted prior to the signing of the agreement by BIA (see Goshute press release).

The agreement contains no triggers to cause pre-determined actions (such as pumping less water or shutting off pumps). It calls for monitor wells (although SNWA gets a veto over locations). Impacts detected in Spring Valley would be addressed by a monitoring/mitigation committee comprised of SNWA and federal agency personnel. Wording allows SNWA to take unilateral action if the committee cannot decide on actions within a year of the impact being raised (which could be several months or years after the impact actually begins developing).

The federal agencies withdrew their water rights protests for an opportunity to monitor the situation as it goes south (so to speak) and for a forum in which to talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk.

Prior to the agreement's signing, NPS hydrologists ran a model SNWA hyped in the water rights hearing. SNWA witnesses testified there is insufficient data to run the model predictively. The NPS results were similar to runs from a model created by hydrologist Dr. Tom Meyers, who predicted water table drawdowns of hundreds of feet with protracted pumping. SNWA got the NPS model results stricken from the hearing records, citing stipulation agreement conditions.

SNWA did not want to negotiate separately with these four agencies so after SNWA whined to Washington DC, the DOI appointed a liaison and began pressing the agencies to reach consensus on an agreement with SNWA. While this cozy arrangement makes life easier for SNWA, it does not make sense for the agencies or for the general public. Each of these four agencies has its own unique mandate. The NPS logically has different concerns about the water export scheme than does the BIA, FWS, or BLM. Why should they get their heads together and sign a one-size-fits-all agreement? Unless this is a political decision as much as it is a scientific decision.

This fits the DOI pattern emerging in the media, from so many different angles. The rich and powerful (of which Las Vegas abounds) have special ins with the DOI. The resulting anemic Spring Valley agreement is a result.

When it comes time for the Nevada Engineer to begin holding water rights hearings on Snake Valley can we expect another secret agreement and an announcement of another DOI public sellout?

New York Times editorial (requires free registration) Also see Rocky Mountain News

Friday, September 29, 2006

Thoughts on "Desert Wars" - Pete Ashdown

I watched the Desert Wars documentary last night and found it to be a
striking commentary. It would seem to me the solution is clear and
there is no compromise to be had. There simply isn't water to spare for
Las Vegas. SNWA's repeated statement, "All we want to do is sit down at
a table and discuss the issue," would be funny if it wasn't so sad.

I plan to visit Callao and Ibapah in October. I hope to meet some of
you then.

Pete Ashdown
Ashdown for U.S. Senate

NOTE: Neither this blog nor Great Basin Water Network (or affiliates) endorse any candidate, but we appreciate support from any candidate.

Goshute press release

September 26, 2006 PRESS RELEASE: For Immediate release

Federal Government Betrays Tribes Again

The federal government again intentionally and maliciously violates its moral and legal responsibilities it has towards Indian tribes. “It is like we have traveled back in time to when the federal government would break our treaties and act like it was in our best interest. It is disgusting how the federal government continues to act without giving any thought towards its moral and legal responsibilities,” says Ed Naranjo, the Vice-Chairman of the Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation (Goshutes).

The Goshutes live on a reservation, which straddles the Utah/Nevada border, an hour south of Wendover Nevada. They have a population of about 450 tribal members with 5 Business Council members. The reservation is isolated and as a result, the Goshutes must protect their natural resources to ensure that all tribal members and future generations will be able to live on and enjoy their homeland. Of course, water is their most valuable natural resource. For the past couple of years, the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) has been making plans to steal water from Utah and Nevada, which definitely includes Goshute water, so that Las Vegas’ greed for more natural resources can be satisfied. In a typical move, the federal government is now actively supporting SNWA’s malicious plans.

The federal agencies that have intentionally violated their trust and legal responsibilities are the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and other Bureaus under the Department of Interior (DOI) who signed the Stipulation Agreement with SNWA. The federal government entrusted the BIA and DOI with the responsibility to protect Native American water and land rights. However, on September 11, 2006, the BIA and DOI ambushed the tribes by entering into an agreement to cooperate with the SNWA attempts to steal water from Utah and Nevada.

The BIA and DOI like its predecessors of year’s past who actively participated in allowing reservation land to be unfairly purchased, squandered and stolen, stabbed the Goshutes in the back when it signed the cooperation agreement without consulting any tribe. The BIA offered a ridiculous apology for failing to consult with the tribes. This was not an apology, but a slap in the face. A letter received September 13, 2006 at Tribal Headquarters specifically said the “BIA apologizes for not being able to consult with the Tribe on the stipulated agreement … before it was approved. The timing of the hearing and the negotiations on the stipulated agreement limited BIA’s ability to do so.” “B.S. they were working on this agreement all the time. The BIA made this cheap excuse in the face of the fact that it has been public knowledge for years that this water grab would happen,” said Vice-Chairman Naranjo.

“By supporting SNWA, the federal government is, as usual, completely ignoring the trust responsibility that it has to protect Indian tribes and tribal resources,” said Naranjo. This trust responsibility has been described by the United States Supreme Court as a “moral obligation of the highest responsibility and trust.” However, there is nothing in the actions of the federal government in this water grab that complies with its trust responsibility.

“The federal government has also intentionally violated its legal responsibilities to consult with Indian tribes when taking any action that may affect Indian tribes”, Naranjo said.

Between 1994 and 2000, the President of the United States signed a memorandum and three executive orders reaffirming tribal sovereignty, self-determination, and self-government. The intent behind these executive orders was to strengthen the government-to-government relationship that the federal government has with Indian tribes. To carry out this intent, the President required all federal agencies to consult with Indian tribes before making decision on matters affecting Indian tribes.

“It is outrageous that the federal government has turned its back on its trust responsibility and the federal consultation policy,” said the Goshute Vice Chairman regarding the BIA’s failure to consult with the tribes. “How hard is it for the BIA to pick up the phone and call me to set a meeting, or to just tell me of the bad news?” Naranjo further asked. By waiting until the last minute, the BIA’s actions prove that it intentionally breached its responsibility by placing the tribes in a position where litigation is certain. “In the past, water litigation with Indian tribes has cost the federal government, state governments, local governments, and tribal governments billions upon billions of dollars, which could have been avoided with a simple phone call,” said Naranjo.

“Not only were Indian tribes sold out in the name of water, but every single resident of Utah and Nevada were sold out by the federal government. If you think about it, the federal government has a trust responsibility to every United States citizen, whether you are Indian or non-Indian, and it should consult with every person or entity when taking any adverse action,” stated Naranjo.

The federal government has a duty to taxpayers, and United States citizens and residents. By its actions, the federal government has made it more likely that the attorneys will get richer, water will be stolen, and our children will ultimately pay the price by having less water. The federal government needs to think about the future of everyone living in Western Utah and Eastern Nevada, not just Las Vegas. The federal government is not only selling out Indian tribes, but it will go to any lengths to sell out every single man, woman and child of Utah and Nevada.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Overview of the Las Vegas water exportation scheme

Las Vegas and other cities in southern Nevada are running out of water. Back when the Colorado River was divided in the 1920's sparsely-populated Nevada got a very small share of water. It was no problem when they were just a railroad town but following World War 2 the population began increasing dramatically. In the 1980's through currently it exploded.

Because of the decade-long drought and dangerously low water levels in Lake Mead -- and given the unnaturally high growth rate -- southern Nevada is projecting to be out of water by 2013 - 2016. Not wanting Nevada to take the Colorado River Compact to court looking for more water there, the other six Colorado River states suggested Nevada to look to instate groundwater resources for southern Nevada's needs.

In 1989 the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) applied for nearly 200,000 acre feet per year of groundwater from rural Nevada basins in Lincoln and White Pine Counties. These applications were on hold for 16 years until the drought caused a reawakening of interest in them.

Two valleys in particular are of concern to rural Nevadans and Utahns. Spring Valley is the key to SNWA's water export plan. They have half of their water rights applications there -- 91,000 acre feet. Spring Valley is completely in Nevada. Snake Valley, straddling the Utah-Nevada border, will involve an interstate transfer of water as well as an interbasin transfer. SNWA has applied for about 51,000 acre feet but says only 25,000 acre feet will be pumped in any year.

Snake Valley is home to the Great Basin National Park (in Nevada) and Fish Springs National Wildlife Refuge (in Utah). Roughly 70% of the Snake Valley aquifer lies in Utah and 90% of the current aquifer usage in Utah. Approximately 60% of the recharge comes from snowpack in the mountains on the Nevada side of the border.

Because of local agricultural pumping and the drought (the same one that has southern Nevada looking for new sources) springs in Snake Valley have dried up. Local use, however, is only a small fraction of what SNWA wants to pump so local ranchers and conservationists expect the water table to drop significantly if SNWA plans are executed, resulting in even more springs drying and the destruction of habitats for sensitive species such as the least chub, Columbia Spotted Frog, and Bonneville Cutthroat Trout.

The Utah Geological Survey reported in early 2005 that SNWA pumping likely would lower water tables in Garrison, Utah more than 100 feet resulting in key springs drying and reversal of normal groundwater flows. In 2006 the United States Geological Survey (USGS) studied Great Basin National Park and identified several streams and springs at risk if pumping begins.

SNWA claims to be able to pump from two aquifer systems. One is the relatively shallow, alluvial aquifer from which the local farmers irrigate. The other is a much deeper, carbonate aquifer which was originally filled as ice age glaciers melted and Lake Bonneville desiccated. These valleys are not very well understood and have not been tested under the stress of such massive pumping as SNWA proposes.

So residents of Spring and Snake Valleys, along with a coalition of environmental, sport, and ranching organizations have opposed the SNWA scheme until better science is available. The USGS currently is working on a study that will better determine amounts of water and flow patterns. But it will not study the effects and impacts of pumping.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Resolution of Utah Interim Committee on Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment

Below is the original text of a non-binding resolution unanimously passed in the 9-20-06 meeting of the Resolution of the UT interim committee on natural resources, agriculture, and environment. The resolution asks (1) Governor Jon Huntsman, Jr and his staff to wait until adequate science is available before signing a water-sharing agreement with Nevada and (2) to include a Snake Valley resident on the negotiating team.

An effort was made to remove language asking for the inclusion of a resident of Snake Valley on the UT negotiation team working on the UT-NV agreement mandated in public law 108-424. That suggestion was dismissed by the committee and the request for direct Snake Valley participation was left in the resolution.

This resolution will be presented to the Utah legislature when they meet at the beginning of 2007. As a Utahn (you can tell a Utahn because everyone else spells it correctly -- Utahan) please contact your legislators asking them to support this resolution.

For news stories about this resolution, see Deseret News and Salt Lake Tribune.


General Description:

  • This joint resolution of the Legislature expresses to the Governor the will of the Legislature regarding the division of the aquifer shared with Nevada.
Highlighted Provisions:
This resolution:
-urges the Governor to:
  • consider the consequences of a potential groundwater development project;
  • involve the citizens in developing the division agreement with Nevada;
  • refrain from entering into the division agreement with Nevada until scientific studies have been completed; and
  • send a copy of the resolution to various parties.
Special Clauses:

Be it resolved by the Legislature of the state of Utah:

WHEREAS, there is an interstate aquifer underlying Snake Valley in western Utah and eastern Nevada;

WHEREAS, this aquifer is the source of the springs, seeps, and wells that support the citizens' livelihoods and fragile ecosystem in Snake Valley and other areas of western Utah;

WHEREAS, the Southern Nevada Water Authority has filed groundwater applications with the Nevada State Engineer to pump 50,680 acre-feet of water annually out of the aquifer as part of the Clark, Lincoln, and White Pine Counties Groundwater Development Project;

WHEREAS, the impacts this groundwater development project could have on the water resources, land, economy, wildlife, and overall quality of life in western Utah greatly concern the citizens of the state.

WHEREAS, Public Law 108-424, the Lincoln County Conservation, Recreation, and Development Act of 2004, requires the United States Geological Survey to conduct a study, known as the Basin and Range Carbonate Aquifer System Study, of the groundwater basins adjacent to Utah;

WHEREAS, the study will determine the approximate volume of water in the aquifer, the discharge and recharge characteristics of the aquifer, and the hydrogeologic and other controls that govern the aquifer system;

WHEREAS, the Bureau of Land Management's environmental impact study for the groundwater development project will analyze the environmental impacts associated with the anticipated groundwater withdrawal;

WHEREAS, the Lincoln County Conservation, Recreation, and Development Act of 2004 requires Utah and Nevada to reach an agreement dividing the water resources of the interstate groundwater flow systems; and

WHEREAS, the Governor has assured the citizens of western Utah that he would not approve a project that would compromise peoples' lives and livelihoods, and there would be some continuity to their quality of life.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Legislature urges the Governor to carefully assess the groundwater development project's potential economic, social, and environmental consequences in Utah.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Legislature urges the Governor to allow public participation in the development of the agreement with Nevada by inviting a citizen from Snake Valley to participate in the negotiations with Nevada and allowing public review and comment on a preliminary draft of the agreement.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Legislature urges the Governor to refrain from entering into an agreement with Nevada until scientific studies are complete to ensure that there is an adequate scientific basis on which to form an agreement.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that a copy of this resolution be sent to the Governor of the state of Utah, the Governor of the state of Nevada, the Executive Director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources, the Director of the Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the Utah State Engineer, the Nevada State Engineer, the General Manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, and a representative of the Snake Valley Citizen's Alliance.