LAS VEGAS — The federal government is ignoring Native American input and disregarding the potential impact on sacred sites as it considers approval of a 300-mile pipeline aimed at pumping billions of gallons of water from rural areas along the Nevada-Utah border, tribal leaders from four states said Wednesday.
Southern Nevada Water Authority won approval in March from Nevada's state engineer to pump up to 84,000 acre-feet of water from rural areas to help quench the thirst of the Las Vegas Valley. J.C. Davis, spokesman for the water authority, has said the $3.5 billion pipeline could provide enough water for up to 168,000 average southern Nevada homes per year.
Officials are now awaiting required permits from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which is performing environmental reviews.
The state engineer's approval has since been challenged in court by environmental groups, local governments, Indian tribes, ranchers and others who claim the project will ensure economic and environmental doom to the rural areas.
At a news conference Wednesday in Las Vegas, tribal leaders from Nevada, Utah, California and Arizona said they have been ignored as talks continue over the pipeline, which they claim will involve digging on Indian ancestral land in areas where ancient remains and artifacts are located.
"We are talking about water here. All life needs water — even Indians," said Rupert Steele, former chairman of the Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation. "If the SNWA is allowed to build this pipeline and pump water from our lands, it will destroy us."
The leaders also claim the project will cause permanent damage to tribal lands and could destroy sacred sites.
Pat Mulroy, the water authority's general manager, testified during previous hearings on the project that the agency was seeking the right to pump only the amount of water that replenishes the aquifers each year from runoff and snowmelt.
Southern Nevada, the state's population hub, is home to 2 million people and attracts 40 million visitors annually.
Most of the region's water comes from the overtapped Colorado River, a source shared by seven western states and Mexico.