ELKO — Assemblyman and Minority Leader Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, testified “it’s not rocket science” to know that basins the Southern Nevada Water Authority has targeted for water withdrawal will be destroyed if that withdrawal is allowed.
He said at a U.S. Bureau of Land Management hearing in Elko the authority would move 175,000 acre feet of groundwater that would be “totally consumed with no chance for recharge.”
Goicoechea and a dozen other people spoke Wednesday evening on the water authority’s plan to pump water from Lincoln and White Pine counties to thirsty Las Vegas, and each one opposed the project.
“Clearly this plan is not economic and it’s not viable,” Goicoechea said at the hearing attended by roughly 35 people.
Elko County Commissioner Warren Russell said groundwater pumping will “create real desert areas,” and he called the proposed pipeline “a big sucking monster moving north.”
He also testified he is concerned about the attitude that the water authority could start the drawdown and “see what’s happening” in terms of impacts.
Yvonne Prescott, who grew up in Lincoln County, said the proposed pipeline would have a drastic impact on White Pine and Lincoln counties, and the water drawdown will create a dust bowl.
She also said the counties wouldn’t reap economic benefits because most construction workers would come from Clark County, and neither Lincoln or White Pine has housing for workers.
“I see all negatives for the people, animals and the land,” Prescott said.
Former Assemblyman John Carpenter of Elko testified he has had a lot of time to study the proposal over the years, “and the more you look at it, the less desirable it is.” He also questioned whether the water would at some point come from Elko County.
Penny Woods of the state BLM office and the project leader for the BLM’s study said the water applications before State Engineer Jason King don’t access any of the aquifers in Elko County.
Pointing to a map during the open house portion of the BLM meeting at the Red Lion Hotel & Casino, she showed where the five basins proposed for pumping water fall short of the Elko County line.
The BLM’s draft environmental impact statement covers the project, but the BLM will be approving only the right of way for a 285-mile water pipeline and project facilities, while the state engineer has to act on the authority’s applications for water rights.
“What we think will happen is the state engineer will make a decision in March,” Woods said in an interview, and the BLM should then be able to include his decision in the final EIS she expects to be issued in mid-2012.
“It depends on how many comments we get. I’m expecting quite a few,” she said.
Even after the BLM issues a record of decision, the water authority will have to come back to the BLM for permits once it determines locations for wells, Woods said.
The state engineer’s hearings are slated to begin Sept. 26 on water-rights applications for Spring, Snake, Cave, Dry Lake and Delamar valleys.
Southern Nevada Water Authority Executive Director Pat Mulroy assured Elko County Commissioners in 2005 that the authority would not file groundwater applications in the future in Elko County, according to earlier Elko Daily Free Press articles.
She also said then that the authority would not buy ranches in the county to acquire water rights and would not acquire rights to water originating in Elko County.
The county approved a contract with the authority the following year for assurances that Elko County water wouldn’t be impacted in the plan to pump water from Lincoln and White Pine counties.
Goicoechea said in his testimony that he is sympathetic with the tight water supply in Vegas Valley, but he said the Pacific Ocean is as close as central Nevada, so he would support desalination.
Susan Lynn of the Great Basin Water Network said the EIS should look closely at alternatives for Las Vegas, including building a desalination plant for California so Las Vegas can then trade for 250,000 acre feet California receives from the Colorado River.
Meghan Brown, executive director of the Nevada Cattlemen’s Association, said the proposed project will have a major impact on streams and springs and a devastating impact on ranching, hunting and wild horses.
“It would be a socio-economic and ecological disaster,” she testified.
Larson Bill of the Western Shoshone Defense Project said “water is all connected despite what scientists say,” and he warned there will be sink holes if water is pumped out of the counties.
“Ranchers who have lived here for generations will be affected,” he said.
The BLM’s open house and public hearing was one of nine around the state. Public comments also may be sent to Penny Woods, BLM project manager, P.O. Box 12000, Reno, NV 89520 or faxed to 775-861-6689. The email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
The draft EIS of the Clark, Lincoln and White Pine Counties Groundwater Development Project is available on the Internet at www.blm.gov/5w5c.