Nevada authorities have approved a controversial plan to pump groundwater from the state’s east 300 miles to Las Vegas.
Building on a network of pipelines and pumping stations striking out from Las Vegas to four valleys in eastern Nevada could start in two years. Approval from the federal Bureau of Land Management remains to be given for the pipeline route.
One of the beneficiaries of the project would be a new, golf course based city in Coyote Spring Valley in the Mojave Desert in southern Nevada.
Drought conditions on Lake Mead, where Las Vegas currently gets almost all its drinking water, and decisions by elected officials on the authority board will decide the timing, John Entsminger, of the Southern Nevada Water Authority told Deseret News.
“Not having water to supply 2 million people [in Vegas] is not an option,” Entsminger said. “This project is fundamental to the survival of this community. We have to have options available to secure the water supply under any scenario.”
Cost is estimated at $3 billion to $15 billion.
Nevada has promised to “go slow,” taking a “cautious approach to ensure there are no adverse environmental effects.” However, a editorial in the Salt Lake Tribune described the scheme as “folly” and warned that:
The trouble with this approach is that, unlike surface water in a river, the effects of underground pumping often are not immediately seen. Plants could die off only slowly. Once the damage is apparent, however, it may be irreversible, and the political pressure to keep pumping water south, particularly after Las Vegas had invested billions in the pipeline project, would be enormous. The complaints of a few ranchers in Nevada and the people of Utah would not count for much.
By the time experts figure out that an environmental catastrophe may be in the making, it could be too late to stop it.
According to The Great Basin Water Network, studies have shown that the Las Vegas area could generate half the water planned to be pumped by more rigorous water conservation.
Cattle ranchers, Native American tribes, and Mormon enterprises in the valleys say that pumping the groundwater on such a scale could result in the water table dropping 75 feet and turn the region into a dustbowl.
Rancher Hank Vogler told the Las Vegas Review Journal that no amount of safeguards can protect rural Nevada once the pipeline is built and the water starts flowing south.
“I don’t think there’s anyone with a big enough checkbook to stop it then. No one is going to have the appetite to say, ‘Oh, shucks, we made a $15 billion mistake. Let’s shut it down.’ ”
If anything, Vogler said, the authority’s pipeline network will only spread to other parts of the state as more water is needed to feed the growth that many expect to return to Las Vegas.
“I’m what I’ve been calling myself all along: nothing more than collateral damage,” he said.
Find out more about the threats from the water project from The Great Basin Water Network.
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