Imagine Utah's West Desert turning into a "pollution spewing ... dust bowl." Opponents to an application by the Southern Nevada Water Authority to pump water from the Snake Valley — which straddles the Utah-Nevada border — have warned in documents filed with Nevada's state engineer that drawing from this water source could spell ecological disaster.

SNWA, which aims to deliver 110,000 acre feet of water to Las Vegas by pipeline, countered with a request to deny "interested person status" to 15 applicants, several from Utah, who want a say in the proposal.

Nevada's state engineer needs to give opponents their due. They deserve to have their respective points of view heard in this matter. Aside from sorting out legal claim to this water, conservationists, the National Congress of American Indians and other interested parties have deep-seated interests in the physical, economic, cultural and spiritual well-being of this area. The key to all of these concerns is sufficient water resources.

SNWA, for its part, says its application has been mischaracterized as a water grab. Rather, a SNWA spokesman has said, the authority seeks to draw upon a resource no one is using.

Area ranchers say the underground aquifer holds in check a polluted aquifer beneath the salt desert. Any force that reduces that water pressure — such as pumping significant amounts of fresh water from the aquifer — could subject the remaining freshwater supply to contamination.

Successive years of drought have burdened plant life in the area. The greasewood, a small deciduous tree that lives on the desert, is particularly vulnerable. If it dies for lack of water, it can no longer maintain the soil. A period of sustained wind could send dust 3,000 to 4,000 feet in the air. This could affect the Utah Test and Training Range.

These are not frivolous issues. Nevada's state engineer needs to carefully consider the implications of SNWA's application for all stakeholders.