Farming in Callao

Thursday, October 19, 2006

gross domestic product

The Las Vegas water exportation proposal has again reached a national audience, this time in USA Today (Vegas reaching for rural water).

Pretty fair coverage. A restrained Hal Rothman again speaks about the need to get pesky farmers out of the picture. In response to a suggestion that water rates should be raised as a means of conservation, Pat Mulroy says, "That penalizes people who can't afford it." It is a never-ending cycle : build more casinos, attract more tourists, hire more workers, build more homes, use more water - but let's not disturb the Fantasy Land image that anyone should actually pay to support their habits (except for the "suckers" - opps, I mean "tourists"). Las Vegas is still WAY behind cities like Tucson in per capita water consumption.

As long as there are basins in which to dangerously lower water tables why worry? Just keep wasting.

Mulroy says our concerns are unfounded, that Nevada law will protect us. "It's emotion. It's regionalism. It's rural vs. urban. It's fear-based. Protecting that environment will always be of tantamount importance to us."

But SNWA only wants to protect the environment enough to make their exportation scheme sustainable. Sustainability for the affected basins is different than sustainability of their scheme. One exhibit SNWA offered to the Nevada State Engineer, in the recent Spring Valley water rights hearing, indicated water tables would have to be drawn down 45 feet in order to eliminate greasewood, whose roots reach down to the water table. That's the goal: capturing evapotranspiration being "wasted" by vegetation. That much drawdown would have devastating effects on springs and the wildlife habitat they provide.

In the NV SE hearings, SNWA claimed they can relocate sensitive species and even irrigate thousands of acres in order to preserve the rural environment. They seem to think they can create a mini Jurassic Park -- exporting Fantasy Land into rural Nevada and Utah. Why not, if you can recreate New York, Paris, Venice, Camelot, and ancient Egypt in the middle of the desert? Somehow they can control massive basins in rural Nevada and Utah but they can't control their own water rates.

The story quotes Jeff Mount, director of the Center for Watershed Sciences at the University of California, Davis : "When you look at it on a bigger, multigenerational scale, we're basically mining these groundwater basins at rates that can't be sustained. When the water's gone, it's gone."

UNLV history professor Hal Rothman puts it all in a simple equation : "Farms and ranches consume 80% of Western water supplies yet generate less than 1% of states' gross domestic product." Yes, Las Vegas produces the bulk of Nevada's income, its "gross domestic product." Gambling. Fantasy. That certainly is worth whatever dire costs rural Nevadans and Utahns might have to pay, isn't it?

The story mentions SNWA's computer groundwater model about which SNWA witnesses testified at length in the NV SE Spring Valley hearings. Their point was the model is wonderful but there isn't enough data to run it -- so please let us pump water and then use the model in our management plan and please pay no attention to hydrologist Tom Myers' model which talks about drawdowns of 200 feet over 75 years. The story correctly points out that the National Park Service, running SNWA's model, got results similar to Myers. Because of a stipulation agreement between SNWA and four federal agencies in the Department of Interior, the NPS model run was not accepted into evidence in the NV SE hearings. (BLM staffers have promised that groundwater models will be part of the Environmental Impact Study soon to be restarted.)

Mulroy, who constantly harps about rural emotionalism, says "Time is short." Anything like 2002, when the Colorado River ran about a quarter of normal, "would invoke a crisis," Mulroy says. In other news stories she has defined the "crisis" -- a slowdown in the out-of-control growth of casino building and tourism to Fantasy Land. I wonder if she has a sign on her desk : "Our lack of planning IS your emergency."

Vegas reaching for rural water

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