Gov. Gary Herbert won't sign Snake Valley water-sharing agreement

Published: Wednesday, April 3 2013 5:53 p.m. MDT

"Yet, despite this overwhelming body of scientific evidence and legally binding safeguards, Gov. Herbert has elected to withdraw from the agreement. In the coming days and weeks, we will evaluate our options to address this unprecedented action,” according to the statement.

The authority's pipeline plans have long been met with resistance from most Utahns, who have said any water withdrawals — even in adjacent valleys — would be unsustainable.

In recent weeks, Herbert was harshly criticized by several groups that believed he was poised to sign the agreement, which has been viewed as a component of the massive groundwater pumping proposal in the region.

On Wednesday, his decision — a surprise to some — was celebrated.

"This is a courageous decision and the right decision," said Steve Erickson with the Great Basin Water Network. "This gives us some opportunity to look at the dynamics of water in the West from a new frame of reference."  

Other critics such as the Utah Rivers Council and Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment — part of coalition that delivered a letter to Herbert on Friday urging the agreement be nixed — also had praise.

“The Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment sincerely and without reservation thank the governor for taking this action to protect the health of Utah residents. He has absolutely done the right thing,"  said Brian Moench, president of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment.

Although a Bureau of Land Management decision keeps the pipeline out of Snake Valley for now, Herbert has said it would be foolish to believe the water authority will not want to develop that resource at some point in the future.

Under the proposed agreement, no pumping would have occurred in Utah, but the critics have asserted that any drawing down of the aquifer on the Nevada side would leave Snake Valley even drier than it already is.

Nevada would have been able to develop an additional 35,000 acre-feet of water per year in Snake Valley, while Utah would have received 6,000 acre-feet of water a year, under the agreement.

The discrepancy came from the fact Utah has already tapped the bulk of water resources in the valley — 55,000 acre-feet to Nevada's 12,000 acre-feet — and the agreement, supporters said, would move the states to a equitable 50-50 split of 132,000 acre-feet between the two states.

Erickson said the governor's refusal to sign the agreement should be viewed as a way to embrace a larger conversation about water usage in the West and work with Nevada on different solutions to shortages.

"We want to work with the governor to help Las Vegas find a smarter or a more sustainable water future and partner with them in working for the same goal in the  entire Mountain West and the Colorado River Basin," he said

E-mail: amyjoi@deseretnews.com

Twitter: amyjoi16

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