In June, the U.S. Geological Survey released a three-year study of groundwater resources in central and eastern Nevada.
The Basin and Range Carbonate Aquifer System Study, known as the BARCAS study, revealed more water is lost to evaporation in the sparsely populated ranching area than had previously been believed.
Pat Mulroy and others at the Southern Nevada Water Authority interpret that as evidence there’s plenty of water in the Snake Valley and Spring Valley to fuel their plan to pipe some of that water south to Las Vegas.
In April, the Nevada state engineer gave the water authority the go-ahead to take up to 40,000 acre-feet of water a year from the Spring Valley. The authority is also seeking an OK to draw 25,000 acre-feet a year from the next valley to the east — the Snake Valley, which borders the state of Utah.
But western Utah farmers and ranchers are “up in arms” about Nevada’s plan to use water from the remote region to slake the thirst of fast-growing Las Vegas, reports Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch.
Sen. Hatch’s solution? Though he has not yet formally asked for a new appropriation, the senator appears to look favorably on a proposal by a Utah legislative committee to spend another $6 million in federal tax dollars doing another federal study, just like the last study, but this time adding some “computer modeling” to better predict possible effects of the pipeline project.
That’s a “deliberate stall tactic” by Utah officials who want to grab water from some of the same aquifers for development in St. George, Cedar City and along the Interstate 15 corridor, charges Ms. Mulroy.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., agrees. “It would be a waste of money,” Sen. Reid said Thursday of the Utah proposal. “There has already been a study.”
The problem with “computer models,” of course, is that the programmer inserts not only his more-or-less objective raw data, but also a set of mathematical functions that can be chosen to chart out pretty much any range of results desired.
The best way to see how fast pumping water from these valleys will drop the aquifers — and how fast they recharge — is to do some test pumping. That’s precisely what Nevada’s state engineer has already authorized.
Sen. Hatch is responding quite predictably to the demands of his Utah constituents, who seek further guarantees that the SNWA pipeline plan won’t adversely impact them.
He can hardly be blamed for lending a sympathetic ear to the concerns of his constituents.
But if Utah wants more data than is available from a federal water study that was completed just a few weeks ago, the Utahans should be told to go fund their own study.
Meantime, Ms. Mulroy has made no secret of the fact that one reason the water authority is “pulling out all the stops” in search of other water sources is to put Nevada in a better position when it comes time to renegotiate the so-called “law of the river” — the 70-year-old federal compact that absurdly allocates far more water to wasteful California and Arizona agricultural practices than to the needs of fast-growing Las Vegas — a city which was a mere whistle-stop when the compact was signed.
The water authority wants to be able to declare, in effect, “We’ve tried everything else.”
Rather than squabble over water rights in the middle of nowhere (which are Nevada’s to dispose of, anyway), Utah’s congressional delegation might accomplish more by asking Sen. Reid and Ms. Mulroy, “How can we lend our support and help you open up a free market in Colorado River water, allowing thirsty Las Vegas to buy water rights from willing California alfalfa farmers and Arizonans from Tolleson to Buckeye currently wading up to their knees in flood-irrigated cotton fields?”