Opposition heard to water pipeline

Lincoln County officials, tribal leaders and federal agencies have dropped their protests to a proposed pipeline that would feed groundwater to Las Vegas from eastern Nevada.

But don’t mistake that for widespread support for the project.

The Southern Nevada Water Authority’s pipeline network still faces loud opposition from rural residents and environmental activists.

That was evident on Friday, when critics got the chance to weigh in on the plan at a state hearing on the Lincoln County segment of the pipeline.

“I’ve been here all my life, and I resent Las Vegas coming up here and making decisions for us that are going to affect our daily lives,” said Caliente resident Dorothy Woodworth Ray.

Dr. Tom Sanders in Ely called the pipeline “the biggest public boondoggle this country has ever seen. It’s going to make the Oklahoma Dust Bowl look like it never happened.”

Harlan Arnold, who used to measure snow accumulations for the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the mountains around Ely, said Southern Nevada has enough water to meet its current needs.

“They want this water for future development. It’s a real estate game,” he said.

A number of people called on the water authority to abandon the pipeline and pursue desalinated Pacific Ocean water.

Authority officials plan to do both, but they claim a large-scale desalination effort is too complicated and expensive to address the community’s water needs in the short term.

Delaine Spilsbury said the water being sought in Lincoln and White Pine counties exists only in “the mystical underground lake in Ms. Mulroy’s water dreams,” a reference to water authority chief Pat Mulroy.

“What foolishness prompts a person to try to take water from a dry lake?” she said.

The Nevada Division of Water Resources accepted the input from the site of its hearing in Carson City and by video link from Caliente, Ely and the Sawyer Building in Las Vegas.

State Engineer Tracy Taylor, who leads the division, will use testimony from the hearing and other information to decide how much groundwater, if any, the authority should be allowed to pump from three Lincoln County aquifers.

The authority is requesting a total of 35,000 acre-feet of water — enough to supply almost 120,000 homes — from Cave Valley, Dry Lake Valley and Delamar Valley, which lie in Lincoln County.

The water would be pumped to Las Vegas through a pipeline extending into White Pine County, some 250 miles away. The project is expected to cost well over $2 billion and could begin delivering water by 2015.

Lincoln County dropped its official protests to the project in 2003, when commissioners there signed a water-sharing agreement with the authority.

More protests were dropped this month when the authority struck deals with the Moapa Band of Paiute Indians, National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Under those agreements, the authority agreed to a host of monitoring and mitigation measures designed to the protect the environment.

The input from Las Vegas was very different. Nearly all of the 35 people in attendance said they favor the pipeline. Danny Thompson from the AFL-CIO and Andy Fegley from the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce said the water is needed to fuel the valley’s economy and, by extension, the economy of the entire state.

The two men submitted letters of support for the project from various unions, developers, and prominent valley leaders including Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman and Jim Rogers, chancellor of Nevada’s university system.

Launce Rake from the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada was one of only two people to speak out against the project from Las Vegas.

“In all my work as a reporter and now an activist, I have yet to meet a single independent scientist who has looked closely at these plans and who doesn’t think they will have a significant, deleterious impact. Not one,” said Rake, who used to cover water issues for the Las Vegas Sun.

The water hearing began on Monday. The authority is expected to wrap up its testimony early next week, and environmental attorney Simeon Herskovits will present the opposition case after that.

The hearing is slated to conclude Friday, but it might wrap up early. The state engineer will accept written public input through Feb. 29.

Contact reporter Henry Brean at hbrean or (702) 383-0350.

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