Water monitoring is being done, biologists are studying spring snails and spotted frogs, and an advisory council is sifting through a thick binder packed with hundreds of comments.

What remains to be seen, however, is the fate of the Snake Valley draft agreement that proposes to split the water in an aquifer between Nevada and Utah.

Members of the Snake Valley Aquifer Advisory Council met recently at the state Capitol to hear updates on studies that are being done in Snake Valley, including a complex system of wells that have been measuring water quality as well as fluctuations in groundwater levels.

An appropriation two years ago by the Utah Legislature has funded the work by the Utah Geological Survey, and additional money is paying for studies by the state Department of Natural Resources.

That probe is looking at habitat and population concerns regarding the spotted frog and the least chub, as well as three varieties of snails, or mollusks.

Krissy Wilson, who coordinates the native aquatic species program for the department, said the funding and studies have proven extremely helpful in assessing population health, particularly that of the mollusks, which only occur in that west desert area.

The draft agreement, which includes protections for the spotted frog and least chub, is likely to undergo modifications before it is submitted to both governors for possible endorsement.

"We come to the table with some passion," said Snake Valley resident and council member Don Anderson. "Maybe let's put the passion a little bit aside and let's look at the strengths of the agreement."

Teams from both states have been negotiating for several years a water sharing agreement after the Southern Nevada Water Authority applied for water rights in Snake Valley to support a pipeline project.

The $3 billion, 285-mile pipeline would convey up to 50,000 acre-feet of water from Snake Valley to support municipal use in Las Vegas.

Water rights have been granted to the water authority in adjacent valleys in support of the pipeline, but the Nevada State Engineer has yet to sign off on the Snake Valley application.

The draft agreement puts that application on "hold" for 10 years while additional scientific and environmental studies are conducted, so critics of the agreement say there should be no rush to divvy up the water.

Critics are also concerned that too much of the "unallocated" water would end up in Nevada's hands, along with "reserve" water that may or may not exist.

Concerns have also been raised that pumping the aquifer will drop the water table so low that native vegetation will dry up and dust storms will result. Winds could carry that dust as far as the Wasatch Front, which already struggles with elevated pollution levels.

Cheryl Heyring, Utah's air quality director, said it will take between $100,000 and $120,000 to pay for the monitoring station provided for in the agreement, as well as additional money to pay for the personnel to extract data.

Council members wanted to know if the monitoring station would collect Snake Valley-specific data, which it will, but Heyring noted the more monitoring the better, conceding additional stations would help.

With the agreement still pending, council members will now spend the next two weeks reviewing the hundreds of comments and making their own suggestions for changes.

They will also seek "expert" opinions on the possible strengths of the arguments — water rights, environmental protections — to present at their next meeting.

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