Nevada’s top water regulator last week granted the Southern Nevada Water Authority permission to pump up to 84,000 acre-feet of groundwater a year from four rural valleys in Lincoln and White Pine counties.
The decision from State Engineer Jason King comes roughly two years after the Nevada Supreme Court struck down two previous rulings granting the authority almost 79,000 acre-feet a year from Spring, Cave, Dry Lake and Delamar valleys.
The hope is to be ready to deliver the water to the state’s main economic engine — Las Vegas, a community that now gets 90 percent of its water from the overtaxed Colorado River — through a multibillion-dollar, 300-mile pipeline, if and when it’s needed.
Mr. King 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.”
When stretched through reuse, the water awarded Thursday is enough for roughly 286,000 households annually.
Mr. King wants the water rights in Spring Valley to be developed in stages so potential environmental impacts can be measured and curbed. He also called for at least two years of scientific data collection before any water is exported, ordering the authority to develop state-approved groundwater flow models and a monitoring and mitigation plan.
Needless to say, the Center for Biological Diversity called the engineer’s ruling a disaster for rural communities, native plants and animals and anyone else it could think of.
“The winner in today’s ruling is mindless Las Vegas growth, while biodiversity, rural residents and future generations are the clear losers,” said spokesman Rob Mrowka.
Court challenges are expected — which helps explain just how wise the water authority is to be wading through the decades-long approval process now.
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 free-market interstate water purchases 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.
Meantime, the sincere concerns of central Nevada residents should not be ridiculed, nor need they be. Old-timers well remember the roughshod seizure of water from the Owens Valley, just across the California line, which has been feeding thirsty Los Angeles for nearly a century.
A century later, it should be possible to build many more environmental safeguards into this project — should it ever be needed. The state engineer is wise to have called for just such measures.