General Manager Pat Mulroy and other officials at the Southern Nevada Water Authority warned it would take a long time to get all their regulatory approvals lined up, so they can be ready should the time come when Las Vegas needs a pipeline to import groundwater from Lincoln and White Pine counties.
They weren’t kidding.
After seven years of review, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management last week signed off on the plan to build 300 miles of water pipes and power lines from Las Vegas to the Spring Valley, east of Ely.
The plan has been in the works for 25 years.
Federal administrators, however, excluded from their “preferred alternative” a further leg of the pipeline into the Snake Valley, which straddles the Utah border east of Spring Valley.
The authority has sought up to 51,000 additional acre-feet of groundwater from Snake Valley, but those applications have been stalled by a lingering rift between Nevada and Utah.
Nevertheless, Ms. Mulroy said last week she was delighted to have federal support to build most of the pipeline, if necessary.
“This project is now sitting out there as a safety net if the (Colorado) river really goes south,” Ms. Mulroy said. “We now have the necessary water resources and the rights of way to protect Southern Nevada.”
In May, Nevada’s top water regulator granted the authority permission to pump up to 84,000 acre-feet of groundwater a year from Spring Valley and three other watersheds in Lincoln and White Pine counties. When stretched through re-use, that’s enough water to serve more than 300,000 Las Vegas Valley homes.
Congratulations might be premature, however. Ms. Mulroy has little doubt more lawsuits are on the way. “We’re just going to have to keep fighting,” she says.
Back in March, when State Engineer Jason King approved the project, he noted it would “not be advisable” for the state’s largest community to continue to depend on a river that is “over-appropriated, highly susceptible to drought and shortage, and almost certain to provide significantly less water to Southern Nevada in the future.”
The water authority would just as soon not build this project, which comes with a price tag variously estimated from $2 billion to $15 billion. Unfortunately, changing the law of the Colorado to allow interstate water purchases at market rates – the best solution – is not politically feasible right now.
Though certainly, if that day ever comes, it will help Nevada’s case to be able to say everything else has been tried.