CARSON CITY, Nev. Officials seeking more water for the booming Las Vegas area have requested a state hearing on the final piece of a massive pipeline project they plan to build to tap groundwater from rural Nevada.
The Southern Nevada Water Authority is seeking state permission to pump as much as 16 billion gallons of water a year from White Pine County's Snake Valley, more than 250 miles north of Las Vegas.
The vast and sparsely populated watershed on the Nevada-Utah border is home to many of the authority's harshest critics, including ranch families who have lived in the area for generations.
"We know there are a lot of very vocal people who live in Snake Valley. We've seen that in the other hearings," said Kay Brothers, deputy general manager for the Southern Nevada Water Authority.
Snake Valley stretches into Utah and includes Nevada's only national park, so the authority also can count on a bitter fight from conservationists and Utah officials when the hearing is held.
"It should be contentious," said Jo Anne Garrett, who has lived just outside the Snake Valley community of Baker for almost 40 years.
In a letter sent last week to State Engineer Tracy Taylor, the Southern Nevada Water Authority requested a hearing "as soon as possible" on its nine applications for groundwater in Snake Valley.
The applications are for the use of enough water to supply more than 170,000 homes. Taylor will have final say over how much groundwater, if any, the authority can safely pump from Snake Valley to supply growth in southern Nevada.
"Obviously, I think we'll get some water," Brothers said. "There's quite a bit of unappropriated water in Snake Valley, so I can't imagine we won't get some water."
Taylor's review process will begin July 15 with a half-day administrative hearing in Carson City to establish procedures and document-filing deadlines for a larger hearing later this year or early next year.
SNWA officials insist they already have enough water to justify construction of the pipeline network, which is expected to cost $2 billion to $3.5 billion.
Following a hearing in 2006, Taylor granted the authority permission to eventually pump nearly 20 billion gallons a year from nearby Spring Valley, also in White Pine County.
In February, the state's top water regulator held a hearing on the authority's plans to pump more than 11 billion gallons of groundwater a year from three valleys in central Lincoln County. Taylor is expected to rule on that part of the project in the coming months.
The authority's Snake Valley applications represent the last piece of the pipeline puzzle.
Before that hearing is held, Brothers said the authority will hold talks with the Department of Interior over an agreement similar to ones reached for the other watersheds targeted by the pipeline.
Shortly before the two previous state hearings, federal agencies agreed to drop their protests in exchange for assurances that the proposed groundwater pumping won't harm sensitive wildlife and fragile habitat in those areas.