Wednesday, September 26, 2018

A three hundred mile pipe: leaving "Reno, Las Vegas and a sand dune"

Great Basin Water is Life from Great Basin Water Network (GBWN)

Nevada is a desert. And since the state is a desert, how water is distributed is the ur-issue of Nevada politics. Las Vegas keeps growing. For 25 years, its water authorities have wanted to pipe in water from underground aquifers in eastern ranch land. This summer the State Engineer, who has the legal authority to decide these things, ruled against the project.

A recent crucial regulatory decision favored the good guys in Nevada’s interminable water wars. State Engineer Jason King ruled against the plan by the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) to import groundwater through a 300-mile pipeline in Eastern Nevada to feed the rapacious thirst of Las Vegas. King’s decision to deny all water rights applications for the water grab was hailed as a tremendous victory for the odd folks coalition of activists, a coalition featuring progressive conservationists, conservative ranchers and farmers, tribal leaders and their members, rural county commissioners and people of all political stripes who recreate in the pristine desert and range of Eastern Nevada, who have worked since 1989 to thwart the water thieves.

Sheila Leslie, Reno News Review

As is true across the West, water rights were allocated under statutes that encouraged settlement and exploitation of the land rather than accounting for sustainability. The Nevada Independent explains:

In order to use water in Nevada, you need a water right from the state. In dozens of basins, the state has allocated more rights to use water than can be pumped out of the aquifer sustainably. In many cases, water rights were allocated when federal land policies, such as the Desert Land Act, encouraged Western settlement and before policymakers had an accurate accounting of the region’s hydrology. The result: If everyone used their water rights, wells could go dry. Streams could disappear. And it would become less likely that water would be available for the future.

Ongoing drought has exposed the fragility of a non-system built piecemeal.

Politicians in Nevada do their best to straddle this contentious issue; both gubernatorial candidates have both verbally opposed the pipeline and acted in support of it in their roles as elected officials. After all, the fight over water for the 75% of the population that lives in Las Vegas has been underway for many residents' lifetimes.

Growing consciousness of inexorable climate change might finally shift hardened positions and end the fight over the pipeline. As Abigail Johnson explains in the haunting video above:

Taking water from one desert to another desert under climate change conditions is ludicrous.

The video is longer than I usually post, but simply gorgeous and well worth ten minutes.

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