Water allocations

State engineer Tracy Taylor Wednesday granted the Southern Nevada Water Authority about half the groundwater it asked permission to pump from the rural Cave, Dry Lake, and Delamar valleys in east central Nevada.

The ruling clears the way for the authority to pump an additional 6 billion gallons of groundwater per year — enough to supply almost 64,000 homes, when stretched through reuse — to Las Vegas through a planned 250-mile pipeline.

The ruling follows on the heels of a similar allocation of water from White Pine County’s Spring Valley last year. In that case, the SNWA was granted 13 billion gallons per year of the 30 billion it had sought.

“We thought more water was available, but we know the state engineer is conservative and we respect that,” Kay Brothers, deputy general manager of the water authority, said this week.

The proposal is controversial among rural ranchers, some of whom fear the “water grab” may mean empty wells on their historic grazing acreage.

But the SNWA has bought land and water rights in the valleys in question at market rates — not seized them by force. The state engineer has further ordered the authority to dig monitoring wells to determine if pumping draws down the aquifers at a faster rate than anticipated. These are all reasonable safeguards.

The water is a state resource, and the state engineer is charged to see it put to the most economically beneficial use. Southern Nevada is the state’s economic engine.

In the long run, the Colorado’s waters will need to be re-allocated, putting urban and residential uses ahead of bargain water for California farmers. But for now, the water authority’s pipeline plan is a case of sensible planning.

As the state engineer has now — again — confirmed.

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