SALT LAKE CITY — Strident critics of a plan to build a pipeline through Utah's west desert and eastern Nevada are lauding a Nevada Supreme Court decision that reaffirms a Nevada state engineer didn't adequately consider environmental impacts of the water right applications that were granted.
"The evidence is overwhelming that this project is not going over well in its home state of Nevada, and it is time for the water authority to look elsewhere for the water Las Vegas needs," Steve Erickson of the Great Basin Water Network said.
The Thursday decision, issued unanimously by the Nevada justices, means the Southern Nevada Water Authority will once again need to have its water right applications for the pipeline reviewed by the Nevada state engineer.
Simeon Herskovits, lead attorney for the opposition to the pipeline, said the decision will reopen the protest process, "thus creating a new opportunity for anyone with an interest to protest these dangerous applications and challenge the state engineer's flawed previous rulings."
The water authority has sought rights to the water in more than 130 wells in the Great Basin region, in support of a 285-mile pipeline it wants to construct.
The line would convey up to 50,000-acre-feet of water per year at a cost of $3.5 billion for municipal and industrial use in Las Vegas and surrounding communities.
Critics fear that a draw-down on the water table in Snake Valley — which straddles both states — could not happen without drastic environmental impacts to the area and without jeopardizing current water rights that sustain the sparsely populated area and industries such as ranching and farming.
The water authority has countered that it has the right to tap those wells because the water originates in the mountains of Nevada, traveling east to Utah. State officials also drafted an agreement with Nevada that includes environmental protections and a way to mitigate impacts suffered by Utah water users. That agreement is on now on hold.
The court remanded the case to the district court for judicial review with instructions to, in turn, send the case back to the state engineer for further proceedings.