Sunday, September 25, 2022 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Environmentalists Fight Giant Water Project for Las Vegas

Groundwater pumped through a proposed water pipeline from central Nevada to Las Vegas could have permanent and devastating effects on water resources, opponents told a federal judge Monday.

LAS VEGAS (CN) — Groundwater pumped through a proposed water pipeline from central Nevada to Las Vegas could have permanent and devastating effects on water resources, opponents told a federal judge Monday.

The Center for Biological Diversity and others want the federal court to stop the Bureau of Land Management from approving local plans to build a 263-mile water pipeline to Las Vegas. Monday’s hearing involved several motions for summary judgments, including dismissal.

The Center for Biological Diversity in January 2015 filed an amended complaint to stop the pipeline, at least until a thorough examination of environmental impacts is done.

Attorney Simeon Herskovits told U.S. District Judge Andrew Gordon on Monday that an environmental impact study done by the BLM lacks credibility and is based on low levels of water draw-downs.

However, “The project is designed to take the maximum amount of water in perpetuity from four basins,” Herskovits said in court.

Herskovits represents a group of local interests in Utah and Nevada, including the Central Nevada Regional Water Authority, the Baker, Nevada, Water and Sewer General Sewer Improvement District, and the Great Basin Water Network.

No matter where wells might be placed to supply the pipeline, Herskovits said, springs, wetlands and meadows “will all eventually be exterminated under this plan.”

Herskovits said the plan will result in “vast spreading draw-downs” of surface and groundwater resources that could take centuries to recharge.

Supporting Herskovits’ argument, attorney Marc Fink, representing the Center for Biological Diversity, told Gordon a more extensive environmental impact study is needed.

Gordon told Fink Nevada’s state engineer is studying the matter and has not issued any findings as of yet. Fink agreed, but said as the BLM and Southern Nevada Water Authority continue moving forward with project plans, it will become harder to stop the momentum if problems arise.

Fink said the project’s environmental impact study does not address climate change issues, nor does it address impacts on 36 to 71 “sensitive species,” he told Gordon.

If a problem does arise, Gordon and Fink agreed, the BLM has the authority to stop the pipeline planning and construction until resolved.

Tribal water and land-use rights were another point of contention, raised by attorney Rovianne Amber Leigh. Leigh represents the Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation, the Duckwater Shoshone Tribe, and the Ely Shoshone Tribe.

Leigh said the BLM did not bother to bring the matter before tribal governments and is ignoring cultural impacts. She said the project would hurt tribal cultural and ceremonial practices, and erode tribal water rights, which include groundwater.

"When the water is gone, what do we tell the children?" Leigh asked Gordon.

While opponents cited concerns about environmental impacts and an incomplete assessment, proponents say ample time remains to assess the plan and make adjustments.

Representing the BLM, attorney Luther Hajek said many more environmental impact studies will be conducted, and the plans can change as needed to adapt to the findings.

Hajek said there is no route yet in place for the proposed pipeline, and the BLM will consult with tribal leaders as well as local entities to ensure everyone has a chance to provide input.

Hajek also told Gordon that climate change studies are incomplete and do not provide any quantitative analysis that would be help assess environmental impacts.

“Plaintiffs are inviting the court to second-guess a project that Congress authorized,” Southern Nevada Water Authority attorney Hadassah Reimer said.

Reimer said the project is needed to diversify water resources, which mostly depend on the Colorado River and Lake Mead reservoir.

Reimer said the project provides a “flexible approach” to solving water needs, and is better than alternative water conservation solutions.

“Conservation does not diversify water resources, it intensifies it,” Reimer told Gordon.

Reimer said Colorado River water likely will be subject to “shortage sharing” soon, and the water project is an important tool to alleviate such supply problems.

The proposed pipeline would traverse White Pine, Lincoln and Clark counties in east central Nevada. Each year it would pump and send 83,988 acre-feet of groundwater from the Spring, Delmar, Dry Lake and Cave valleys in east central Nevada to the Southern Nevada Water Authority's facilities in Las Vegas.

An acre-foot is enough water to cover 1 acre 1 foot deep. City planners estimate that a typical suburban household uses one acre-foot of water a year.

Gordon concluded the two-hour hearing at 5 p.m. and said he would issue a ruling in several weeks.

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.