Farming in Callao

Monday, October 23, 2006



In Chemicals cause changes in fish and raise concerns for humans by Las Vegas Sun reporter Launce Rake starts out, "There's something wrong with the fish."

There also seems to be something wrong with the science.

The story deals with a USGS report about deformed fish in Lake Mead and elsewhere in the US. These deformities are linked to wastewater chemicals. The deformities are being caused by traces of pharmaceuticals, pesticides, chemicals. In the case of Lake Mead, the source seems to be treated wastewater in the Las Vegas Wash, which drains Las Vegas Valley.

Controversy surrounds both the science and the scope of the problem. One researcher, Tim Gross, thinks the problem is worse than official reports suggest. He says he was ordered not to release his findings; USGS fired him, claiming he failed to release his findings. Gross claims the new report is still withholding important data. USGS officials still maintain data has not been suppressed.

Gross claims SNWA, USGS, and the Dept. of Interior do not want to hear his gloomy message. Gross worries the chemicals in Lake Mead could affect humans, since the lake supplies water to Las Vegas Valley and communities downstream in California and Mexico. The USGS says implications for human health are outside their sphere. SNWA claims water being drawn from Lake Mead to Las Vegas is adequately treated to avoid any threats to humans.

This news story may have implications for the water grab.

Plans are in the works to build a $750 million pipeline to put the effluent from Las Vegas Valley deeper into Lake Mead in order to provide a greater separation from where the effluent goes in and where drinking water comes out. Dr. Jim Deacon, professor emeritus in environmental studies at UNVL, has speculated that this $3/4 billion could be better spent by upgrading SNWA treatment plants with membrane technology similar to recent advancements in desalination. This strategy would virtually eliminate the toxic effluent polluting Lake Mead.

SNWA, however, is in love with return flow credits -- treated wastewater that goes back into Lake Mead. This is the treated effluent that is carrying the chemicals causing the deformities in fish. SNWA gets a gallon of Lake Mead water for every gallon of treated wastewater SNWA puts into the lake. This almost doubles their 300,000 acre-feet allotment from the Colorado River. But treating the wastewater with membrane technology would still render that water reusable. In fact, membrane technology could free up other unusable water such as brackish groundwater, runoff, and flood waters. Using this technology could make it possible to make available as much or more water than SNWA is seeking in their rural groundwater scheme.

This is another example of SNWA's blinders approach. They see the pristine water of rural Nevada and Utah and their creativity stops there. Let's hope the BLM will be more open to other ideas when they look for alternatives in their ongoing Environmental Impact Study.

Another implication for the water grab may be federal agencies running interference for SNWA. We've already seen four agencies sign an what many see as an inadequate stipulation agreement and withdraw protests on SNWA Spring Valley water rights applications. We still have several processes to complete in the water grab, involving federal agencies. These processes require copious amounts of close scrutiny.

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