LAS VEGAS (CN) - Regional water consortia, environmentalists, Native American tribes, the League of Woman Voters and other filed two federal lawsuits challenging a proposed 263-mile pipeline to deliver groundwater from rural eastern Nevada to Las Vegas: "the biggest groundwater pumping project ever built in the United States."
The two federal complaints, weighing in at a combined 107 pages, say the groundwater pumping and transfer will threaten protected species and permanently damage the ecosystem. In fact, it will authorize pumping more groundwater than the target area contains.
In the short complaint, the Center for Biological Diversity sued the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the Department of the Interior. It claims the government violated the National Environmental Policy Act by authorizing the Southern Nevada Water Authority's Clark, Lincoln and White Pine Counties groundwater development, which calls for construction of a 263-mile pipeline and related facilities.
The accompanying 75-page lawsuit makes similar complaints against the defendants. The dozen plaintiffs in this case carry considerable political weight. They are White Pine County, Nevada; the Great Basin Water Network; the Sierra Club; the Central Nevada Regional Water Authority; the Confederated Tribes Of The Goshute Reservation; the Ely Shoshone Tribe; the Duckwater Shoshone Tribe; the Baker, Nevada Water And Sewer General Improvement District; Utah Physicians For A Healthy Environment; the Utah Rivers Council; Utah Audubon Council; and the League Of Women Voters Of Salt Lake, Utah.
The giant, contested project "centers on the pumping and export of groundwater from fragile, groundwater-dependent ecosystems and agricultural communities in rural Nevada on a scale that is greatly in excess of any previous undertaking, and would be the biggest groundwater pumping project ever built in the United States," lead plaintiff White Pine County says in its complaint.
(The Owens Valley project in California, which ruined Mono Lake to feed Los Angeles, may have been bigger, but it involved pumping surface water, not groundwater.)
White Pine County (pop. 10,000), whose seat is Ely (pop 4,250), is 263 miles from Las Vegas (pop.568,000).
The Bureau of Land Management estimates the project will take 38 years for full build out and cost more than $15.45 billion. If completed, it will pump and transport up to 176,655 acre-feet of groundwater a year to Las Vegas from five valleys in eastern Nevada: Delamar, Dry Lake, Spring, Snake and Cave Valleys.
The groups say the groundwater model the government relied on for the final environmental impact survey and the record of decision shows that the project will "have devastating hydrological, biological, and socioeconomic impacts across vast areas of eastern Nevada and western Utah. The potential economic, social and environmental effects of this massive and unprecedented groundwater mining and export project are therefore of great local, state, regional and national significance, and have been the subject of widespread and intense controversy since the project was first proposed in 1989."
In its lawsuit, the Center for Biological Diversity claims the project will cause indirect harm to 130,000 acres of wildlife habitat, including meadows and wetlands; could cause several hundred springs to dry up; and might kill off several threatened species, including as the endangered sage grouse.
White Pine County, on the border with Utah and Arizona, has a total area of 8,897 square miles, of which only 21 square miles (0.18 percent) are water. The rest of the county is dominated by pine forests, several designated wilderness areas, and the Great Basin National Park.