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Toiyabe Chapter
Nevada and Eastern California
PO Box 8096
Reno, NV 89507

(775) 323-3162

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2006 No Pumps, No Pipelines II

People, scenery, and science Water Tour

A score of people who hailed from as far away as Wyoming and New Mexico were part of a 500 mile tour of eastern Nevada's rural ranches and towns dependent on important regional springs threatened by proposed water exportation projects by the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) and others. 

The bus tour included onboard discussions with experts in biology and hydrology who explained how endemic wildlife depends on the springs and wetlands of eastern Nevada and how pumping of groundwater threatens to reduce or dry them up.  Sponsors of the tour were the Great Basin Water Network and Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada.  The Toiyabe Chapter is an active member in both groups.

At its first stop at Moapa National Wildlife Refuge, the tour group learned about the the Moapa Dace, a small desert fish which has evolved to thrive only in the warm spring waters of the Refuge.  A soon to be completed viewing chamber provided incredible views of the Dace and the White River springfish.

The water from the refuge's 20 springs form the Muddy River which flows 25 miles to Lake Mead and supports irrigation and domestic needs downstream at communities at Moapa, Logandale, and Overton. The springs are threatened by pumping of groundwater for the massive Coyote Spring 160,000 house development, the Toquop coal-fired power plant, and 13,000 acre housing developments at Mesquite.

Later that day, Lund farmer, Rod McKenzie, explained to the group how his community of farmers and ranchers depend on Lund and Preston springs for irrigation.  Rod smiled as he talked of the role his family played in creating the farming and ranching towns of Lund and Preston in southwestern White Pine County.  Rod worries that proposed pumping in nearby valleys will affect the regional groundwater and reduce the spring flows the community (and endemic fish) depend on.

After an overnight in Ely, the tour was joined the next day by Dave Tilford of Ely who lead us into Spring Valley east of Great Basin National Park (GBNP) to see the area's famed swamp cedar forest and Shoshone Ponds, refugia for 3 rare desert fishes. The group enjoyed a morning walk in the valley's forest of Rocky Mountain juniper trees -- dubbed the swamp cedar because they can survive only due to the high groundwater table -- and expansive meadows and ponds of the designated BLM area. Dave's knowledge of the area leads him to conclude that SNWA's massive pumping plans will destroy the trees and artesian wells and wetlands.

Snake Valley on the west side of GBNP is also targeted by SNWA for groundwater export and that greatly concerns Dean Baker who lead the afternoon tour of the expansive Baker Ranch on the Nevada-Utah border.  Dean Baker, whose family started ranching here in the 1950's, has watched as valley springs dried up as local agricultural groundwater pumping increased.  His own experience tells him that huge pumping plans by SNWA will damage his ranch and dry up natural meadows he depends on for his livelihood. The group heard first hand at a dinner later on that day hosted by Baker residents how alarmed the entire Snake Valley is about plans to export groundwater to Las Vegas 300 miles away.

The group learned on its final tour day that many Lincoln County residents do not appreciate the County's deal with SNWA agreeing to extensive pipelines and pumping plans for water export.  Ken Lytle has ranched his whole life in Rose and Eagle valleys.  He's concerned that groundwater export will dry up ranches and springs, but also sees that developers are buying up area ranches weakening the entire region's agricultural base. 

The tour made a final stop at Panaca Spring, one of the areas largest and most reliable springs.  Panaca spring attracted settlers 150 years ago to build the agricultural community. Panaca spring proved hard to resist -- half the group ended up the 3-day bus tour diving right in its warm waters -- immersing themselves in the groundwater issue.

The tour highlighted that groundwater pumping for additional water supplies is not a free-lunch for cities.  No more water is created by pumping and rural communities and the fish and wildlife dependent on springs and wetlands of this vast desert region have good reason for concern.

Quick Fact:  White Pine County's Spring Valley is targeted by SNWA for 91,000 acre-feet of groundwater to support growth in the Las Vegas valley -- enough water to supply an additional half-million people. A hearing before the Nevada State Engineer to decide on SNWA's Spring Valley water applications is set for September 2006.