That thud you felt recently? It was the Bureau of Land Management finally releasing its 4,000-page Draft Environmental Impact Statement on the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s plan to build a pipeline to bring water from the Great Basin south to the Valley. The proposal has been around since the late ’80s, making the report—which took six years to write—seem speedy by comparison.
Both sides of this issue are dug in. The SNWA wants groundwater from rural Clark, Lincoln and White Pine counties to stave off potential trouble should the water level in Lake Mead continue to fall. Runoff from snowmelt in the Rockies is heavy this year, and Lake Mead is expected to rise by as much as 32 feet. But who’s to say that isn’t an anomaly? “All you need is one [year like] 2002 and you’ve erased all the gains you’ve made,” says SNWA spokesman J.C. Davis. Snowpack in the Rockies was only 25 percent of normal that year, the worst year of an 11-year drought that just happened to coincide with a booming Las Vegas.
Not to mention all that delicious construction work created by a pipeline that is expected to cost as much as $3 billion. What agency wouldn’t want to be in charge of doling out that kind of largesse?
Of course, things have changed since the pipeline idea was first hatched. Las Vegas isn’t booming. Pipeline opponents question the need for such a huge straw—a recent objection added to their longstanding opposition on environmental grounds. Rob Mrowka, an ecologist with the Center for Biological Diversity in Arizona, says sucking out some 57 billion gallons of groundwater per year to benefit Las Vegas will destroy wetlands, drain springs and endanger mule deer, sage grouse and some species of fish. It would also put small ranchers out of business and fundamentally change the ecology of the Great Basin.
The BLM has given both sides 90 days, ending Sept. 8, to comment on the report. Opponents want more time to digest the tome, but haven’t received an answer from the BLM on their request. Copies are available at the BLM’s website, BLM.gov/nv.