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."

1 comment:

Bob Brister said...

What I didn't like about the documentary is that it frames the question as being a conflict between the average residents of Las Vegas and the residents of Snake Valley while I think the conflict is between Las Vegas developers and land speculators and their political allies on one side and the residents of Snake Valley and Las Vegas on the other.

I see this as largely a class conflict between big-moneyed interests in both Las Vegas and St. George against the residents of Snake Valley and St. George. My big concern is that a back-scratching deal between Sen. Reid and the Utah politicians will mean that both plans go through.