In the West, there are numerous occasions when environmentalists and conservationists are diametrically opposed to the interests of farmers and ranchers.
When it comes to the Southern Nevada Water Authority's plans to tap groundwater from the Snake Valley and ship it by pipeline to booming Las Vegas, conservation groups and ranchers stand united. Pumping as much as 16 million gallons of water a year from the Snake Valley which straddles the Utah-Nevada line has the potential to harm fragile habitat and sensitive wildlife in the area.
As Nevada's water engineer prepares to conduct hearings on the matter, Utah elected officials must vigorously defend the interests of Snake Valley residents, many of whom have lived and operated ranches in the area for generations. This is not just for posterity's sake; the underground aquifer serves an important function in holding in check the polluted aquifer beneath the salt desert. Any force that reduces that pressure risks polluting freshwater supplies.
In 2006, Nevada's state water engineer granted the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) permission to eventually pump nearly 20 billion gallons a year from nearby Spring Valley. SNWA officials say they already have secured sufficient water resources to justify construction of the pipeline network, estimated to cost up to $3.5 billion. Securing water allotments in the Snake Valley is the next step in the project.
The Spring Valley applications were initially opposed by federal agencies. Those protests were dropped in exchange for assurances that the groundwater pumping would not harm habitat or wildlife. This hardly seems a reasonable concession. If the point of drawing down this water is supplying more than 170,000 homes in the rapidly growing Las Vegas area, what is SNWA's alternative if the pumping damages Snake Valley's delicate ecosystem? Is it really going to underutilize a pipeline system that will cost billions to construct? Is it really willing to slow the flow to paying customers?
We hope Nevada's water engineer will view the Snake Valley applications differently from the previous applications he has granted. Snake Valley includes Nevada's only national park, Great Basin. It deserves the utmost protection. So do freshwater supplies in the area that support ranching and hold polluted aquifers at bay.