If Nevada wins a water war with Utah along the border they share, Utah officials and environmental groups contend it will add to an already bad air-pollution problem along the Wasatch Front.
Snake Valley Citizens Alliance's Terry Marasco on Wednesday told the Utah State Legislature's Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Interim Committee that the Southern Nevada Water Authority wants to take 50,000 acre-feet of water annually from the Snake Valley, a "very dry place" in Utah's Millard County and Nevada's White Pine County, for use in Las Vegas. Officials on both sides of the border are currently trying to work out an agreement on how best to tap into an aquifer located in the Snake Valley region.
"There seems to be, from my point of view, a rush to sign an agreement," Marasco said. "Why the rush?"
Earlier this month, Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon and commission chairmen from Juab, Millard, Utah and Tooele counties sent a letter to Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., expressing concern about the Snake Valley water project. The county officials urged the governor to direct his negotiating team to protect Utah's interests by insisting on precise monitoring and mitigation procedures and adequate enforcement by the Utah Attorney General's Office.
Marasco and other groups are calling for more science on how much water lies beneath the area's basin and what the long-term environmental impacts will be of removing the water. The fear is that the valley would become another dust bowl, such as what happened under similar circumstances in California's Owens Valley, and that the airborne dirt would migrate to the Wasatch Front, where pollution from particulate matter is already giving air-quality regulators fits.
Marasco also delivered a letter to lawmakers from Physicians for a Healthy Environment President Dr. Brian Moench.
"As a group, the most tragic victims of air pollution are in fact our children," Moench wrote. "Research shows a clear association between air pollution and multiple adverse affects in children."
Moench said air pollution was to blame for 2,000 deaths annually in Utah.
"If Nevada proceeds with its plan to drain the aquifers in central Nevada and ship the water to Las Vegas, it is virtually guaranteed to make our already precarious air quality, with all of the health consequences I just mention, even worse," Moench said.
Marasco and Moench both warned lawmakers that surface soil particles contaminated by years of nuclear testing could make their way into Utah's air. Carcinogenic erionite from volcanic residue in Nevada soil also could pollute Utah's air, they said.
Steve Erickson, a member of the Board of Directors of the environmental group Great Basin Water Network, said in a letter to the committee that more public hearings are ahead on Southern Nevada Water Authority's proposal, and a draft environmental impact statement is due out next summer or fall.
Like the environmental groups, Salt Lake and Utah counties have contended the project would deplete the water table and cause dust storms in the Snake Valley that would cause more air pollution along the Wasatch Front. The two counties have been denied legal "interested person" status by the Nevada State Engineer overseeing the Snake Valley project. That means the counties will not be allowed to present evidence during administrative hearings on the project. The counties last month filed an appeal in Nevada state court over the denial.
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