(CN) — Nevada restricted groundwater pumping Tuesday in an area north of Las Vegas, potentially killing a real estate project that threatens an endangered fish clinging to existence in a handful of spring-fed desert pools, the Center for Biological Diversity said.
“We’re pleased that the state engineer recognizes that these critical groundwater supplies must be protected to save the Moapa dace from extinction,” said Patrick Donnelly, the center’s Nevada state director. “There’s still too much groundwater pumping, and further reductions are necessary to ensure long-term conservation and recovery.”
The order from state engineer Tim Wilson is the latest move in a battle that stretches back 15 years for the Tucson-based center, including a 2010 lawsuit over the 5-inch fish, which has been protected under the Endangered Species Act since 1967 and lives only in Muddy River pools fed by a few warm springs.
In 2012, the center lost that bid to nullify the Fish & Wildlife biological opinion clearing the way for pumping, and the Ninth Circuit also sided with Fish & Wildlife in 2015.
A planned real estate project in the area about 50 miles north of Las Vegas, Coyote Springs, would dangerously increase groundwater withdrawals, making the new restrictions critical, the center said.
“This order may be the death knell for Coyote Springs,” Donnelly said. “Greedy real estate developers have no business building subdivisions in the middle of the desert, and now they have no water to do it with.”
In his order Monday, Wilson said previous allocations totaling 38,000 acre-feet from the Lower White River Flow System, which includes springs that sustain the Moapa dace, “greatly exceed the total water budget that may be developed without … proving detrimental to the public interest.”
The order limits pumping in the system to 8,000 acre-feet — twice the amount suggested by environmental groups but far below acceptable estimates from other stakeholders, which ranged as high as 36,000 acre-feet. An acre-foot is enough water to cover 1 acre 1 foot deep. It can sustain an average suburban family for a year.
Excessive pumping around the warm springs in the Coyote Spring Valley would affect the dace in two ways — reducing the amount and the temperature of the water, Wilson said.
Nineteen stakeholders, including U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Moapa Band of Paiutes, Southern Nevada Water Authority, several other water utilities, and environmental and energy groups testified in a two-week Carson City hearing about pumping rules from Sept. 23 to Oct. 4, 2019.
No consensus was reached, and estimates on acceptable pumping ranged from zero to 36,000 acre-feet, Wilson said.
The order also declares that seven areas that developers claimed were separate “bathtubs” of water, not connected as a unit, are one hydrographic basin, nixing developers’ arguments that they could pump in some areas without affecting the Muddy River springs.