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WILL FEDERAL STUDY SAVE GREAT BASIN NATIONAL PARK? 

Lehman Cave, Great Basin National Park, Nevada.  Photo by Howard Goldbaum

Great Basin National Park in far eastern Nevada is famous for its scenery, both its extensive underground limestone caves and its stunning mountains and cliffs filled with bristlecone pine and aspen forests, a rock-ice glacier, and sparkling trout-filled steams.

Nevada's only National Park is bordered by Spring Valley on the west and Snake Valley on the east, both prime targets of the proposal by the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) to pump and export up to 110,000 acre-feet of groundwater through hundreds of miles of pipelines south to Las Vegas to support growth and development.

In 2007, the Nevada State Engineer approved SNWA's applications to take 40,000 acre-feet from Spring Valley and has required monitoring to determine pumping impacts before another 20,000 acre-feet could be taken.  Scientific studies have shown that Spring Valley is hydrologically connected to Snake Valley, but the impacts of SNWA pumping on underground flows from Spring to Snake is not known.  The Engineer has set September, 2009 for the last major protest hearing for SNWA applications in Snake Valley - another 50,000 acre-feet.

Will SNWA pumping and removal of groundwater from the valleys surrounding the Park affect the hydrology which currently results in the very slow creation of the stalactites, stalagmites, helecites, shields, and many other unusual shapes, drop by drop?  Will dropping water tables caused by pumping groundwater in SNWA wells, some directly adjacent to the Park, dry up springs, creeks and meadows?  Will SNWA pumping in Spring Valley capture groundwater currently flowing east to Snake Valley and into Utah?

A new 3-year study by four federal agencies, the US Geological Survey, and Desert Research Institute will collect and analyze data on the connections between groundwater and surface water, water-dependent ecological features, and the regional carbonate aquifer, the known source of many of the high-discharge springs.

Will the study results come too late to save the Great Basin National Park is the question confronting Sierra Club leaders and local residents and Park-supporters?

The study details can be found at http://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/2008/3071.