CARSON CITY, Nev. — An attorney for the LDS Church called a proposal for tapping ground water in the dry regions of Nevada and pumping it to Las Vegas a disaster with good intentions.
"It's the cotton candy of good intentions with nothing good at its core," attorney Paul Hermonskie said Friday. "It does not provide the protection my client must have."
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is just one of hundreds of protestors who have lined up against the proposal for tapping groundwater aquifers in eastern Nevada. Hermonskie was among several who testified Friday's closing hearing convened by the Nevada State Engineer's Office. Hearings first began in September in which hundreds of documents were submitted and more than 80 people have testified.
At issue is the divisive proposal by the Southern Nevada Water Authority to take ground water so it can supply the future needs of customers in the Las Vegas area. As many as 126,000 acre-feet of groundwater would be tapped to fill the proposed 300-mile, $3.5 billion pipeline that proponents say is necessary to keep the tourism industry — and the economy — of Las Vegas and Nevada afloat.
The authority is seeking water right applications for a pipeline delivery system that has been the target of controversy because of concerns it would deplete ground water supplies in the arid region.
Critics fear tapping one of the hydrologic basins would draw down the water to the extent that it would compromise the livelihood of ranchers and farmers who make their living in the area.
The church has launched objections to ground water applications in Spring Valley, where it runs more than a 1,000 head of cattle on the Cleveland-Rogers Ranch.
"The springs will all go dry. It's no accident this is called Spring Valley," Hermonskie said, pointing to the availability of water. "Without it we face cheat grass — acres and acres of cheat grass."
The Nevada hearings only dealt with valleys within the state, but Utah residents had plenty to say about their concerns and what would happen if the pipeline goes through.
Eskdale resident Jerald Anderson talked about the area, which has 1,500 acres of farmland and 75 people living there. He blasted the proposal, saying it would essentially wipe out a long tradition of farming.
"It's not just business, it's personal," he said, speaking of the livelihood of those who live in the area. "You can do the wrong thing the best way possible and still do the wrong thing."
Paul Taggart, attorney for the water authority, said efforts to tap the water represent a "reality check," because southern Nevada can't continue to rely on the over-appropriated Colorado River for its future water supplies.
"Cities in America get their water from other places," he said. "There's nothing unusual about these interbasin transfers ... southern Nevada deserves a quality life."
He said the water authority's plans to use the groundwater are backed by sound science and critics are simply making noise because they can.
"It is clear this project will be environmentally sound," he said, adding that opponents represent a "very small vocal minority."
The Nevada state engineer is expected to make a decision on the water right applications in March.
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