Water pipeline critics urge release of records

SALT LAKE CITY — Conservationists critical of a plan to pipe water to Las Vegas from a shared aquifer on the Nevada-Utah line are urging release of all public records related to the secret negotiations between regulators in the two states.

The Millard County Commission also is sharpening its criticism of the plan, saying it gives away too much Utah water and isn’t nearly as equitable as the Utah Department of Natural Resources claims.

The Southern Nevada Water Authority wants to eventually start delivering rural groundwater from the Snake Valley to the Las Vegas area through a pipeline that could stretch more than 300 miles and cost up to $3.5 billion, according to water authority estimates now several years old.

An agreement reached Thursday dictates construction of the pipeline can’t begin until at least 2019 so the environmental impacts of the project can be fully studied.

The Great Basin Water Network filed a request the next day seeking all records associated with the negotiation and drafting of the agreement.

Network spokesman Steve Erickson said the group wants to know what went on behind the scenes with the negotiations during the past four years.

“The secrecy gag imposed on Utah’s negotiators by the Southern Nevada Water Authority should never have been agreed to,” he said. “It’s cut out not only those of us who are concerned about the future of Snake Valley, it’s cut out legislators and county commissioners.”

The pipeline could supply enough water for almost 270,000 homes and is intended to diversify Las Vegas’ water supply. The area currently gets about 90 percent of its water from the Colorado River, according to state regulators.

The two states have been working toward a water sharing agreement, at the direction of Congress, since 2004.

Public hearings on the proposal are scheduled to begin Monday in Delta and Baker, Nev. They continue Tuesday in Salt Lake City and Thursday in Las Vegas.

Environmentalists have voiced concerns the project could dry up the valley around Great Basin National Park and potentially send dust storms toward Utah’s Wasatch Front.

But Allen Biaggi, Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources director, said air quality would be monitored and would be a key factor when deciding how much water could be taken from the aquifer.

Biaggi and Utah Department of Natural Resources Executive Director Mike Styler said the draft agreement would divide equally between the two states the water in the west desert valley that hasn’t already been allocated.

But Millard County commissioners said in a three-page letter to the department on Friday that’s not true.

“They’ve deliberately misled the public to create the false illusion that there’s a 50-50 split,” said Mark Ward, a Utah Association of Counties attorney speaking on behalf of Millard County.

The agreement proposes to split 132,000 acre-feet of water the U.S. Geological Survey estimated is available in Snake Valley, with 66,000 acre-feet a year going to each state as long as conditions are met. The total amount of water in the calculation includes 55,000 acre-feet already allocated in Utah.

But Millard County officials say those numbers are misleading because 20,000 of those acre-feet are Utah water rights dedicated to Fish Springs National Wildlife Refuge, which isn’t in the Snake Valley basin. That means the split would really be 59 percent to 41 percent in favor of Nevada, they say.

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