EDITORIAL: Water pipeline fight

Let’s clear up a common mischaracterization about the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s plan to pump groundwater from rural eastern Nevada and move it to the Las Vegas Valley for urban use: The agency doesn’t want to build the pipeline.

In fact, no one wants to build the pipeline. Not only would it cost a fortune — perhaps as much as $15 billion — but its construction would mean drought along the Colorado River had persisted to the point that the region’s water supply and economies were at risk. No one wants that.

Unfortunately, one day the authority might need to build the pipeline to shore up its supply. The valley gets 90 percent of its drinking water from shrinking Lake Mead, which is on course for a federal shortage declaration that will reduce what Nevada and Arizona can draw. Nevada’s neighbors aren’t about to relinquish any part of their shares. And the easiest, cheapest solution to West’s water woes — creating an open, interstate market for Colorado River water and abolishing the arbitrary apportionment of nearly a century ago — is a political nonstarter.

The pipeline is Southern Nevada’s Plan B. The water authority has an obligation to take the project’s planning process as far as possible, to fully study and report the environmental effects of groundwater pumping, to put the pipeline through all the judicial and regulatory scrutiny required. The agency must be ready to turn the first shovel of earth and purchase the first piece of pipe should the project pass muster and become absolutely, undeniably necessary.

Federal lawsuits filed this week to block the project are part of that process. American Indian tribes and the radical Center for Biological Diversity threw every argument possible at the court — threats to snails and cultural sites, violations of federal laws in authorizing right-of-way, habitat degradation. The Center for Biological Diversity’s case, in particular, is rooted in ideological opposition to any development that allows urban population centers and economies to grow, not a desire to save frogs, bugs, weeds and birds from extinction. These groups have actually done the authority a favor by filing their actions sooner, rather than later. More such litigation will follow.

Meanwhile, the authority is moving the ball forward in state court, as well. In December, a judge effectively stripped the authority of its rural water rights and rebooted the project’s regulatory process. The Nevada Supreme Court will decide these issues. All this will take years. But it’s important. Water is a state resource, not a local one. Every single job depends on water flowing from every single tap, every day. One day, we might need this pipeline — even if no one wants it.

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