SC Seal

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

 
(775) 323-3162
Chapter webguy

Pages updated mon

Cholla Cactus at Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge
Desert Moon  & Cholla at Pahranagat National Widlife Refuge, Lincoln County Nevada. (D. Ghiglieri).

Pipelines Threaten Rural Residents, Springs, and Wildlife in Eastern Nevada

The 1989 Las Vegas "Water Grab":  15 years ago, the Las Vegas Valley Water District (LVVWD) filed applications with the Nevada State Engineer for an interbasin water transfer from the essentially undeveloped wilderness valleys of eastern and central Nevada to metropolitan southern Nevada. The applications were met by a huge public outcry from rural counties, Indian tribes, rural residents, state and federal park and wildlife agencies, ranchers, and environmentalists. Bruce Babbitt was hired by the rural coalition to help defend against the huge interbasin water transfer (before he was Clinton’s Secretary of Interior). LVVWD put its controversial importation plans on hold while moving aggressively to secure more water from the Colorado River.

Today, with the new administration, the drought, and recent changes in Colorado River policy, LVVWD, and now, the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA), are moving to re-start the deferred water grab in southeastern Nevada at both the state and federal levels. Vidler Water Company and Lincoln County are also in the water marketing business. We are hearing the same arguments about Las Vegas running out of water as eastern Sierrans heard when Los Angeles Dept. of Water and Power in the last century secured Owens Valley water rights, at the expense of Mono Lake and the economies of eastern Sierra communities and natural ecosystems. We are still fighting today to heal the impacts of that decision, to our environment, to our eastern California communities.

Top of Page
Back

Las Vegas Proposal Sparks Controversy: The 1994 plans by the LVVWD (now a part of the Southern Nevada Water Authority) to pump from wells distributed in eastern Nye, southeastern White Pine, most of Lincoln and north and southeastern Clark Counties to deliver in 4 phases up to 181,000 acre-feet per year (AFY). The plan called for the full development over 19 years.  24,000 AFY for 7 years; 47,000 AFY for the next 4 years; 118,000 AFY for the next 7 years, and 181,000 AFY thereafter. Modeling of impacts from this groundwater pumping are reported in a document commissioned by the 3 rural counties: A Three-Dimensional Regional Ground Water Flow Model Applied within South-Central Nevada and Portions of California and Utah, June 30, 1997, prepared by Principia Mathematica Inc. (report) These plans will depend on as yet unknown infrastructure of pipelines, roads, powerlines, communications facilities, etc. in many valleys in this region, destroying its current undeveloped wilderness landscape forever. This proposal has been somewhat changed, but the majority of applications remain. Las Vegas has no state permits to pump the ground water and its first 7 applications will be fiercely resisted by two Nevada counties, Inyo County, California, federal agencies including the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, and the Bureau of Land Management and Indian tribes in a piece-meal state hearing process, the first scheduled for March 22, 2004 in Carson City.  Now with recent pipeline corridor/rights-of-way maps (pdf)
(jpeg) showing BOTH Vidler Water Company and LVVWD pumping and planning to export water, the total amount of water to be extracted from the groundwater basins of eastern Nevada is again unknown.

Top of Page
Back

Pumping Groundwater Linked to Drawdowns: The report includes pages of graphs and maps showing drawdowns from various pumping scenarios: for instance, ten years after the 47,000 AFY pumping scenario, in Tickaboo Valley drawdown would be between 50 to 500 feet many miles around the well-fields. 30 years after pumping starts under the 181,000 AFY scenario, drawdowns of 200 to more than 500 feet will occur in Spring Valley on the west side of the Great Basin National Park, the Desert National Wildlife Refuge, Warm Springs and Coyote Springs, Tickaboo Valley, Railroad Valley, Pahranagat Valley, etc. After 100 years of pumping, the drawdowns cover most of eastern Nevada and extend into Utah, showing massive drawdowns greater than 500 feet. Pumping impacts on Ash Meadows NWR, Death Valley NP and the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe are unquantified at this time.  Another study by the USGS, Distribution of Carbonate-Rock Aquifers in Southern Nevada and the Potential for their Development, Summary of Findings, 1985-1988, Summary Report No 1, 1989 by Michael D. Dettinger, shows a linkage between spring flows and pumping in the carbonate aquifers.

Top of Page
Back

Impacts of Drawdowns on Plants, Wildlife, and Springs: The report discusses the serious but as yet unquantified impacts of drawdowns on desert vegetation and springs on alluvial fans and in valley bottoms (see maps):
  • "In those basins where little or no man-made activities occur, the proposed pumping will cause progressive declines in water levels which, in turn, will cause corresponding declines in natural vegetation as well as significant reductions in spring flows and ground water availability.

  • "In those basins already influenced by past and present manmade activities, the impacts of proposed ground water pumping will be significant reductions in water availability to historic water users, including wildlife.

  • "Springs located in those basins where their connectivity with deeper ground water systems is established, will be impacted by additional ground water pumping in such basins causing significant reductions in spring flows.

Many plant and animal species depend on the remote desert and springs and streams of this region. 

Top of Page
Back

Impacts to Biodiversity: The springs and rivers support several threatened, endangered, and sensitive (TES) species of fish and other aquatic animals and plants, some of which have recovery plans based on existing water supplies. More information is still needed on the extensive biodiversity supported in the Mojave Desert ecosystems of southeastern Nevada by springs, lakes and rivers, all of which are dependent on existing ground water flows (www.state.nv.us/nvnhp). USGS reports show ground water flows down the eastern edge of the state split with most ending up in the Muddy River and some flowing under the Sheep Range (Desert NWR and Nellis AFB) to support springs at Ash Meadows NWR, Devil's Hole, and Death Valley National Park. (See map). Drawdowns lowering spring levels could negate existing recovery plans and lead to the listing of many other sensitive species not yet in critical condition. Drawdowns could also lead to the diminishment or loss of the Pahranagat Lakes and the Muddy River ecosystem, similar to the threat to Mono Lake. The federal and state wildlife and park agencies will end up with insufficient water to fulfill their missions of managing public resources.

Regional Groundwater Flow
Top of Page
Back

Impacts to Rural People:  Losing ground water resources from rural counties and Indian tribes to the Las Vegas importation project and extensive exporting for industrial and residential development envisioned by the Vidler Water Company water pipelines could re-create the Owens Valley in eastern Nevada, leaving the future of its residents in limbo. While a 3 to 2 majority of Lincoln County commissioners currently support the loss of its water resources to Las Vegas, White Pine and Nye Counties continue to strongly oppose the Las Vegas importation proposal.

Top of Page
Back

Impacts to Migratory and Resident Birds: The proposed pumping and infrastructure would affect directly or indirectly six Nevada Important Bird Areas, including: Pahranagat Valley Complex, Meadow Valley Wash, Moapa Valley, Virgin River, Ash Meadows NWR, and Oasis Valley IBAs. These water-dependent IBAs provide vital habitat to both resident and migratory birds.

Top of Page
Back

Public Discussion on Costs/Alternatives Lacking:  The costs of this massive project were originally estimated in excess of a billion dollars, but more recent estimates have not been disclosed. Las Vegas is currently facing other half billion dollar water projects with a preliminary proposal to extend its water intake pipeline and its sewage outflow pipeline into Lake Mead, to address water quality problems. Can it afford the cost of infrastructure for water importation? Will the water quality of existing ground water basins be harmed by aggressive pumping? Even with a water conservation program, Las Vegas is the highest per-capita water consumer of any southwestern city in the US. Los Angeles has implemented successful water conservation measures which have reduced its per capita consumption while serving its increasing demands without any increases in existing water supplies (www.ladwp.com) Los Angeles has spent $215 million on trying to solve the Owens Lake dust problems and has $415 million more budgeted. Los Angeles has bought water in northern California and is beginning pilot desalinization projects. What are more economically and environmentally sound alternatives to water importation for Las Vegas?

Top of Page
Back

Proposal for Federal Legislation to "mandate" pipeline corridor:  A current proposal for Congressionally-mandated water pipeline corridor Rights-of-Way in eastern Nevada would result in an effective over-ride of NEPA, the ESA, and the federal trust responsibility for Indian tribes, extremely bad precedents for destroying legally mandated environmental protections. Any EIS written subsequently to Congressional action would be a pro-forma document, without a no-action or other alternative than the “preferred” one, and without any commitment to mitigation of adverse environmental impacts on unique southeastern Nevada biodiversity and human communities and tribes.

Top of Page
Back


Other Options Needed: The proposed Congressionally-mandated pipeline Right-of-Way in eastern Nevada would result in an effective over-ride of National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the federal trust responsibility for Indian tribes, extremely bad precedents for weakening or destroying legally mandated environmental protections. Any Environmental Impact Study written subsequently to Congressional action would be a pro-forma document, without a no-action or other alternative than the preferred one, and without any commitment to mitigation of adverse environmental impacts on unique southeastern Nevada biodiversity and human communities and tribes.


Top of Page
Back

There is No Crisis:  At a time when the Clark County Commission is convening a panel of experts and residents to consider the future growth of southern Nevada, it would be unwise to support a hasty implementation of a massive and expensive water importation project that would affect profoundly not only the Las Vegas metropolitan area but southern and central Nevada and Death Valley, California, as well.

Top of Page
Back

Home