weather icon Clear

Court upholds plan to pipe groundwater to Las Vegas Valley

Updated August 24, 2017 - 4:50 pm

A federal judge has ruled in favor of the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s plans to tap groundwater in eastern Nevada, but he ordered federal regulators to first specify how they intend to address environmental damage from the massive pipeline project.

In a written ruling handed down Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Andrew Gordon upheld the Bureau of Land Management’s 2013 decision to grant a right of way for the roughly 300-mile network of pumps and pipes the authority eventually plans to use to deliver more water to Las Vegas. water decision

But the Las Vegas judge also ruled that the BLM failed to explain what should be done to repair or replace wetlands and other habitat that might be destroyed by the project. He ordered the agency to “address these narrow deficiencies” in an amendment to its environmental impact statement for the pipeline right-of-way.

Lawsuit filed in 2014

A coalition of local governments, tribes and environmental groups in Nevada and Utah filed suit in 2014 accusing the BLM and the Interior Department of ignoring environmental laws and tribal trust obligations in their review of the pipeline. The water authority joined the government’s side of the case in April 2014.

Though the plaintiffs were hoping to see the right-of-way thrown out and the BLM ordered to conduct another environmental review of the project, they still found something to like about Wednesday’s decision.

Marc Fink , senior attorney with the Tucson, Arizona-based environmental group Center for Biological Diversity, called the ruling “a win for wildlife and fragile habitat across eastern Nevada.”

“BLM will have to go back to the drawing board and come up with a plan to compensate for the huge losses that would occur from draining these ancient aquifers,” Fink said in a written statement. “This isn’t just a paperwork exercise. There are serious questions about whether they can mitigate the severe impacts of this enormous water grab, which would destroy thousands of acres of wetlands and important habitat for many sensitive wildlife species.”

In a statement Thursday afternoon, water authority officials said they were pleased that the judge rejected “the vast majority of the plaintiffs’ claims” and affirmed almost all of the BLM’s extensive, yearslong review of the project.

The authority one day hopes to pump up to 84,000 acre-feet of water a year — enough to supply roughly 170,000 average Las Vegas homes — from Cave, Dry Lake and Delamar valleys in Lincoln County and Spring Valley in White Pine County. The project is expected to provide a much-needed alternate supply for a growing community that gets 90 percent of its water from the Colorado River by way of Lake Mead.

The authority’s current 50-year water resource plan indicates groundwater from the rural valleys north of Las Vegas won’t be needed until 2035 at the earliest.

$15 billion project

There is no specific timeline for construction, which is expected to take at least a decade and cost about $15 billion.

In his 39-page decision, Gordon framed the pipeline project as both a threat to the environment in the rural valleys and a possible life-preserver for Las Vegas.

“There can be no question that drawing this much water from these desert aquifers will harm the ecosystem and impact cultural sites that are important to our citizens,” Gordon wrote. “On the other hand, Southern Nevada faces an intractable water shortage.”

At the moment, the authority has no water to put in its proposed pipeline.

State Engineer Jason King has scheduled a two-week hearing starting Sept. 25 to decide, for the third time since 2010, just how much groundwater the authority should be allowed to pump from the four valleys.

Twice before, Nevada’s top water regulator has granted water rights for the project only to have his decision reversed in state court.

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
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)
Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno hosts BBQ - Video
Assembly Woman Daniele Monroe-Moreno hosts BBQ to bring the community together to hear about the candidates up for election and for people to gather and have fun.
Democrat Virtual Caucus - Video
Elizabeth Warren visits Las Vegas
Senator Elizabeth Warren made a campaign stop at the East Las Vegas Community Center on Tuesday July 2, 2019. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Aaron Ford Speaks About Bill AB431
AB431 is a bill sponsored by Nevada Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson to restore the right to vote for formerly incarcerated individuals. Attorney General Aaron Ford spoke at the AM&E Church in North Las Vegas about the bill, on Monday, July 1, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)