62°F
weather icon Clear

Southern Nevada water agency to appeal ruling against pipeline project

The Southern Nevada Water Authority will continue its push to pipe in water from across Eastern Nevada.

Authority board members voted unanimously Thursday to appeal a recent state engineer’s ruling that blocked the agency’s plans to one day pump groundwater from four valleys in Lincoln and White Pine counties.

Before the vote, water authority general manager John Enstminger said the controversial project might not be needed for decades to come, but keeping it as an option is the prudent thing to do.

“Conservation is our community’s number one resource option,” he said.

Last month, State Engineer Jason King rejected the authority’s applications for the valleys because of an earlier court ruling he said he disagreed with but was legally bound to follow.

That 2013 decision by Senior District Judge Robert Estes required the state engineer recalculate and likely reduce how much water he had previously granted to the authority, in part to ensure that the water table in the largest of the basins would eventually reach equilibrium despite large-scale groundwater pumping.

In the 111-page decision King issued on Aug. 17, he said that directive from the court left him no choice but to reject the authority’s water applications, even though he considered it “poor water policy for all Nevadans.”

Sisolak explains vote

Authority officials — and King — hope to see Estes’ ruling reversed as a result of the petition for judicial review approved by the board on Thursday.

King apparently feels so strongly about the matter that he also intends to file an appeal in which he will ask the court to throw out his own decision, said JoAnn Kittrell, spokeswoman for Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

Thursday’s unanimous vote surprised some observers who had expected Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak to break ranks with his fellow water authority board members after he recently voiced opposition to the pipeline project.

But Sisolak said his vote was about clearing up a legal dispute over state groundwater policy, not about his feelings regarding the pipeline itself.

“I have serious reservations about this project,” Sisolak said. “I’m not convinced this would solve our water problems in and of itself.”

Instead of a multibillion-dollar pipeline that might damage the environment and not produce that much water, Sisolak said he would prefer to see the authority invest in ocean desalination plants along the Pacific Coast in exchange for more water from the Colorado River.

“We’re not going to run out of salt water,” he said.

Sisolak is the Democratic candidate for governor, and if he wins in November, he could end up appointing Nevada’s next state engineer. King has announced plans to retire early next year.

Asked how his feelings about the pipeline project might play into a gubernatorial appointment like that, Sisolak said he didn’t want to speculate.

Opposition runs deep

Las Vegas water officials have been been pursuing the pipeline from eastern Nevada since 1989, when they startled rural residents with a surprise mass filing for billions of gallons of untapped groundwater resources across the southern half of the state.

In the decades since, the authority has spent tens of millions of dollars on permitting and preparation work for the project, including the purchase of several ranches in White Pine County’s Spring Valley, where the wholesale water agency still grows hay and raises livestock to preserve its water rights.

Authority officials insist the pipeline will be needed one day to supply the valley’s growing population and provide a backup supply for a community that gets 90 percent of its drinking water from the Colorado River.

The project remains a key component of the authority’s 50-year water resource plan, though officials do not expect to need that water for at least 15 to 20 years.

Construction of the 300-mile-plus network of pumps and pipelines could take a decade or more and cost more than $15 billion, including financing costs.

A diverse coalition of rural residents, ranchers, American Indian tribes, conservationists and outdoor enthusiasts from Nevada and Utah opposes the project, which they fear will drain a huge swath of the state, destroying the landscape and the livelihoods of those who depend on it.

One of those opponents, environmentalist Patrick Donnelly, said he didn’t buy the explanation Sisolak and other board members gave for their unanimous vote on Thursday.

“I think it’s duplicitous to say this wasn’t a vote for the pipeline,” Donnelly said. “There’s no way to frame it other than that.”

Contact Henry Brean at hbrean@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0350. Follow @RefriedBrean on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Politics Videos
Tomi Lahren Speaks at UNLV - VIDEO
Fox News contributor and UNLV alumna Tomi Lahren returned to campus Wednesday night for a speech, titled “Stay Triggered,” that drew an auditorium of supporters as well as a group of protesters outside. (James Schaeffer/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bernie Sanders released from Las Vegas hospital - VIDEO
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., issues a statement after he was released from Desert Springs Hospital Medical Center on Friday, Oct. 4, 2019, after suffering a heart attack earlier in the week. (Bernie Sanders via Twitter)
Democratic presidential candidates speak on impeachment - VIDEO
Democratic presidential candidates attending the March for Our Lives/Giffords Gun Safety Forum in Las Vegas comment on possible impeachment proceedings. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Joe Biden Las Vegas Rally Highlights - Video
2020 presidential candidate, Joe Biden, came to Las Vegas to talk guns, climate change and the Ukranian-Trump scandal. Biden was interrupted by a protestor who sat amongst supporters at the rally and continued with his speech. (Angus Kelly & James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Joe Biden comments on Trump and his campaign efforts in Nevada - Video
After an impeachment inquiry was opened on Donald Trump, Joe Biden talks with Review-Journal politics reporter Rory Appleton about Trump and his campaign in Nevada. (Angus Kelly & James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bernie Sanders Unveils Affordable Housing Plan - Video
Bernie Sanders sits down with the Las Vegas Review-Journal to talk about his new affordable housing plan he unveiled at Plumbers & Pipefitters.
Jim Marchant talks gun control and Dreamers - Video
Republican Candidate for District 4 Jim Marchant talks about gun control and immigration policies. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Hurricanes, Gender, and Science in the Press
Imagine if the mainstream media’s current hurricane-sized obsession with scientific accuracy applied to gender.
Cory Booker on college tuition and minimum wage
Cory Booker talks on the RJ Politics podcast about college debt, informing workers about their rights and livable wages.
Nevada Politics Today: Teacher raises - VIDEO
Jason Goudie, the chief financial officer for the Clark County School District, talks about teacher pay and raises. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Media's Double Standard On Incitement And Trump - Video
Over the weekend, an Elizabeth Warren-supporting socialist who opposed gun violence used a rifle to commit a mass murder in Dayton, Ohio. The media has downplayed that aspect of the tragedy.
Project Our Care Tour Kicks Off In Las Vegas
U.S. Rep. Dina Titus joined health care advocates and local residents as part of Protect Our Care’s nationwide bus tour kick off in Las Vegas on Monday, August 5, 2019. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Bernie Sanders talks about guns, response to El Paso shooting
Sen. Bernie Sanders spoke about his response and continued policy ideas about guns and gun control to the Review-Journal after a panel of other topics. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Pete Buttigieg On Gun Control And Climate Change - Video
Pete Buttigieg talks about his campaign for the 2020 election and how Nevada is a vision of what the future can be.
Beto O'Rourke speaks in Las Vegas
Presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke spoke to supporters at the East Las Vegas Community Center in Las Vegas, Thursday, Aug. 2, 2019. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Former Nevada Senate leader Kelvin Atkinson sentenced to prison
Former Nevada Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson, who pleaded guilty to misusing campaign funds, was sentenced to 27 months in prison on Thursday, July 18, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Trumps Strength is also a Weakness - Video
One of Donald Trump’s greatest strengths — his ability to shape national narratives — is also a great weakness.
Tax the Rich Bus Tour makes a stop in Las Vegas - Video
The Tax the Rich Bus has stopped in Las Vegas as part of its summer tour. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
THE LATEST
Clark County expands no-gunfire zones

The boundary in Clark County where it is illegal to shoot guns was expanded this week to include Lovell Canyon Road and areas in the southwest and northeast portions of the Las Vegas Valley.

Las Vegas shooting cross memorial moved for safety

For two consecutive years, Greg Zanis planted 58 handmade white crosses at the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign. But this year, because of safety concerns, the memorial will move downtown.