Mike Styler, executive director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources, expects to be "chewed out by the governor for asking for $1 million."

But the money is for an issue near and dear to Utahns — water — and Styler had the backing of central Utah residents.

"This is a life-and-death issue for people," said Rep. Richard Wheeler, R-Ephraim. Some residents are "really nervous."

Styler told Wheeler and other members of the Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Interim Committee on Wednesday that the money would pay for drilling test wells in an area where Nevada water developers may tap into groundwater that flows into Utah.

The proposed project, sponsored by the Southern Nevada Water Authority and the Lincoln County Water District, would pump underground water resources in eastern Nevada to Las Vegas.

Utahns are worried because pumping groundwater close to the state border potentially would affect ranches and wildlife habitat in Utah.

Most of the concern involves a remote area of western Juab and Tooele counties, including Snake Valley in the vicinity of the Deep Creek Mountains. But Styler said Fish Springs National Wildlife Refuge might be affected, nearly 40 miles east of the Nevada border.

The estimated recharge of Snake Valley is 105,000 acre-feet of water. Of that, 65,000 acre-feet falls as precipitation in Nevada mountains and 40,000 on Utah mountains, said Styler.

According to Boyd Clayton of the Division of Water Rights, where water originates is not the crucial issue in terms of rights. "Where it ends up is what's important," he said.

Under a 2004 federal law on rights of way, Utah and Nevada are to come to an agreement on water allocations. Because not as much scientific information is available about the aquifer as they would like, Utah officials are backing a plan for monitoring and test wells.

But the plan is unfunded.

"Our goal and intent in entering into the agreement is to protect water rights and then to provide water for future growth in Utah and to look carefully at the sustainability of the resources," he added.

Styler said Nevada officials "have been very good to work with. They're very accommodating." An objective is not to threaten the aquifer, making sure that "the water resource is not mined," he said.

Residents told the committee that the water isn't as plentiful as Nevada officials claim.

Cecil Garland, rancher from Callao, Juab County, said Southern Nevada believes there's a surplus of water. "There is no surplus of water in Snake Valley," he said.

"The desert valley simply will not sustain that kind of pumping they're talking about. Can't happen."

Wheeler said the issue is important to Utah, and the Legislature may be able to help fund the test wells. Rep. Roger E. Barrus, R-Centerville, committee co-chairman, said the chairmen would talk to Styler about the issue.

E-mail: bau@desnews.com