The National Congress of American Indians has approved a resolution opposing a controversial project to pump water from western Utah and eastern Nevada deserts to Las Vegas.
The congress, comprised of Native American tribes nationwide, contends the plan would lower Great Basin groundwater tables, dry up springs and wells that sustain those lands and irreparably harm plants, animals and people.
"It's the center of life. There is no life without water," said Fermina Stevens, administrator of the Elko Band of the Te-Moak Tribe of Western Shoshone.
Water, she said, is tied to the tribe's culture and spirituality.
The NCAI resolution demands the Nevada state engineer "respect the Great Basin Tribes' right to continued physical, economic cultural and spiritual survival ... "
Whether the resolution, passed at NCAI meetings in Reno earlier this month, carries any weight with the state engineer and the Bureau of Land Management remains to be seen.
"We hope they would take a look at the problem and our concerns," Stevens said.
The Southern Nevada Water Authority wants to build a pipeline to carry as much as 16 million gallons of water a year from Snake Valley, which straddles the Utah-Nevada line, to rapidly growing Las Vegas. Snake Valley includes the arid Great Basin National Park.
"The more we know about the Las Vegas water grab, the worse it looks," said Launce Rake of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, which opposes the project.
Developers, he said, are the ones calling the shots. "It's about profit. It's always been about profit."
Rake says the NCAI resolution doesn't have any official influence but "I'm sure the Southern Nevada Water Authority is not happy to see this."
Authority spokesman J.C. Davis said he was vaguely aware of the resolution. Its impact is not a question for the authority but for the BLM and the Nevada state engineer.
Davis said the authority's request has been mischaracterized as a water grab.
"We asked permission to draw upon a resource that no one else is using," he said.
Davis said it's not a matter of whether the aquifers should be tapped, but in what quantities. "The fundamental question is how much can reasonably be drawn without causing adverse environmental impacts," he said.In addition to American Indian tribes, ranchers, farmers and conservationists have come out against the proposal.