LAS VEGAS (CN) - The Bureau of Land Management struck out in its bid to dismiss a federal complaint against its approval of rights of way for a proposed 263-mile water pipeline from east-central Nevada to Las Vegas.
In light of a Jan. 29 amended complaint from the Center for Biological Diversity, U.S. District Judge Andrew P. Gordon on Tuesday denied as moot the BLM's motion to dismiss the initial complaint.
The environmental group claimed the BLM plan violated the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the National Historic Preservation Act and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act.
In its motion to dismiss , the BLM said the claims are not actionable, that it met its fiduciary duties and that it does not have a "mandatory duty" to "prevent or mitigate" abuse of water rights and use.
The BLM and the Department of the Interior approved giving the Southern Nevada Water Authority a permanent right of way for a 263-mile water pipeline and related facilities. The pipeline would pump and send up to 83,988 acre-feet of groundwater a year from the Spring, Delamar, Dry Lake and Cave valleys in east central Nevada to the water authority's facilities in Las Vegas. It would traverse White Pine, Lincoln and Clark counties.
The proposal was challenged in federal and state courts.
In its Jan. 29 amended federal complaint, the Center for Biological Diversity said the pipeline would "result in severe and irreversible impacts to natural resources, including over 10,000 acres of direct impacts and 130,000 acres of indirect impacts to wildlife habitat" and "over 5,000 acres of impacts to wetlands and meadows."
It said the project would inflict "adverse affects to over 200 springs with flow reductions as high as 100 percent; adverse impacts to fish and wildlife species that are threatened or endangered with extinction; and potential loss of local populations of some wildlife species, including imperiled sage grouse."
A water authority official told Courthouse News that the project would maintain local water resources and comply with state law.
"Nevada water law does not allow water mining," said Bronson Mack, a spokesman for the water authority. "You can't remove more water than can be recharged on an annual basis."
Mack said the authority takes into consideration the potential impacts on wildlife habitat, including the endangered greater sage grouse and desert tortoise.
He said the pipeline would take 15 years to complete from design to implementation and probably would not be in use until 2035 at the earliest and possibly as late as 2060.
"We're still working through the permitting process," Mack said. "It continues to be a moving target due to annual changes in development and population."
Mack said the water authority evaluates available resources and needs every year.
If approved, he said the water would go straight to the water authority's processing facilities for use in the Las Vegas area.
About 40 percent of the water used in Las Vegas goes through a reclamation process and is sent to the Lake Mead reservoir, and eventually through the Colorado River system, Mack said.
He said about 80 percent of water that goes into the Colorado River winds up being used for agriculture in the Imperial Valley in Southern California.
The Center for Biological Diversity says that many of its 50,000 members live in areas that would be affected by the pipeline.
It seeks declaratory judgment that the BLM violated the National Environmental Policy Act, Federal Land Policy and Management Act and the Administrative Procedure Act, and an injunction to stop the BLM and Southern Nevada Water Authority from starting the project until the BLM "demonstrates full compliance with the law."
Opponents of the pipeline include the Sierra Club; Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation; Ely and Duckwater Shoshone tribes; White Pine County; Great Basin Water Network; and the Central Nevada Regional Water Authority; the Baker, Nevada, Water & Sewer General Improvement District; the Utah Rivers Council; the Utah Audubon Council; Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment; and the League of Women Voters of Salt Lake.
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.