Farming in Callao

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

SNWA's ultimate goal - Utah strategic backfire?

Southern Nevada depends on the Colorado River for 90% of its water needs. When the Colorado River was divided between the seven river-bordering states and Mexico in the early 1920's, Nevada wound up with a very small share. At the time it seemed as though Nevada never would come close to using its share. Las Vegas was a small railroad town.

Then Hoover Dam was built and prostitution legalized in the 1930's. Construction workers from the dam site made regular runs to Las Vegas for gambling, girls, and guzzling booze. After World War 2, the Strip was developed, with a lot of mob money and muscle. Beginning in the 1980's the population of southern Nevada began to soar and the land developers and casino owners have kept the out-of-control growth stoked to the explosion point.

Now SNWA managers are predicting their Colorado River share will be inadequate by 2013-2016.

A few years ago, SNWA began making threatening noises about challenging the Colorado River Compact in court, in an attempt to get more Colorado River water. Although the Compact is based on a bogus river volume, it sort of works and no one really wants to see what would happen if it was reopened. So Nevada's sister states in the Compact, led by Utah, directed Nevada to look for instate resources in exchange for promises to lay off the Compact and for ways to enhance Nevada's share of the river.

That is why, in 1989, SNWA applied for water rights in Lincoln, Nye, and White Pine Counties.

These applications were put on hold because of public outcry at the time. In 1994 Pat Mulroy called the scheme silly, implying it was a dramatic way to draw attention to southern Nevada's plight.

Then the drought. Lake Mead, where SNWA draws its share of the river, began receding. It is now at a dangerously low level. So, SNWA resurrected its plans to pump water from rural Nevada and pipe it to southern Nevada -- accompanied by another public outcry.

An August 20, 2006, Las Vegas Sun editorial said:

The multibillion-dollar ground water proposal, which has been in the planning stages since 1990, calls for pumping 91,000 acre-feet from the Spring Valley region of Lincoln County and 25,000 acre-feet from the Snake Valley region of White Pine County. (An acre-foot is roughly enough water to supply a family of five for a year.)

Mulroy believes this amount of extra water would ensure Las Vegas' growth to the middle of this century. By that time, we hope, the federal law governing how Colorado River water is shared among seven states will have been changed to allow Nevada a greater portion.

What is Nevada's and SNWA's goal? To get instate water, thus avoiding having to attack the Colorado Compact? Or to get instate water, to better consolidate their position when they make their inevitable attack the Colorado Compact?

Now Utah is in negotiations with Nevada to determine how much Snake Valley water is unused and available to be sucked out of the aquifer shared by the two states. It will be a shame if we give up a lot of groundwater in the West Desert in an attempt to stave off an assault on the Compact only to find that the Compact is still under siege and our water rights and resources are gone, too.

For more information about the stress on the Colorado River Compact, see Las Vegas wrestling over Rocky Mountain water by Matt Jenkins of High Country News


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