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

(775) 323-3162

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Pages updated monthly

Petroglyphs  show people have long lived in the desert near  springs and along the White River and Meadow Valley Wash. (D. Ghiglieri)

How the Sierra Club Membership and Water Network Position Influenced the Lincoln County Bill

What had been the Lincoln County bill  in October 2004 became law on the last day of November 2004.  And while the law did establish 770,000 acres of wilderness in Lincoln County, it also granted rights-of-way to the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) for a massive pipeline to carry rural groundwater to ensure a future of continued burgeoning growth in Las Vegas.  It also authorizes the pumping facilities, roads, powerlines, fences and other facilities along with the pipelines on formerly public land.  The bill was championed by 3 members of Nevada's Congressional Delegation - Senators John Ensign and Harry Reid and Congressmen Jim Gibbons.  The passage of the Bill granted the SNWA a significant portion of their proposed pipeline rights-of-way in Lincoln and Clark Counties. The congressionally authorized pipeline rights-of-way in the new law makes it easier to send rural water south for growth in Las Vegas with a real possibility that a new "Owens Valley" will be created in Eastern Nevada.

Our request to the Congress, supported by our members (thank you to all!)  many hundreds -- perhaps thousands of letters, emails, faxes and phone calls, was simple --
  1. Expand the hydrological study to include the entire carbonate aquifer in Utah, California, and Nevada.
  2. Support Department of Interior position to drop specific pipeline utility corridors from the map in the bill and allow corridor designation to be addressed in the BLM's resource management planning process already underway.

How Did the Chapter Do Influencing the Outcome of the Bill?Pumps fill pipelines in Moapa Valley where spring discharges are declining each year.  Water rights holders often can't fight the large utilities causing the declines.

On point 1) the Water Network and Sierra Club partially prevailed.  Six million dollars was alloted to a study of the groundwater system in White Pine and Lincoln Counties in Nevada and adjacent Utah.  Although the expansion didn't include the entire acquifer it was significant that it includes adjacent Utah.

On point 2) the Water Network and the Sierra Club did not prevail.  However, since the bill doesn't cover the entire pipeline project and does require that the pipeline rights-of-way be studied through an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), the BLM has begun preparation of the EIS of the pipeline for the SNWA.  However, how the pipelines proposed by the legislation will be addressed for the Lincoln County/Vidler Water Company is not clear.  The proposed timeframe for the EIS allows the EIS to be completed before the $6,000,000 study by the USGS and the Desert Research Institute is done. 

Below is our more detailed position regarding the "Lincoln County Bill" and its water pipeline provisions.


September 23, 2004

The Honorable Pete Domenici, Chairman
Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee
Washington, DC 

The Honorable Richard Pombo, Chairman
House Resources Committee
Washington, DC 

Re:  S.2532
and H.R. 4593, Lincoln County Conservation, Recreation and Development Act of 2004

Dear Chairman Domenici and Chairman Pombo:

S. 2532 and H.R. 4593  have been introduced by the Nevada delegation and we are giving the bills our full attention because of the serious ramifications this legislation has on rural and urban Nevadans and eastern Nevada ecosystems and for future generations of Nevadans.  The Lincoln County Conservation, Recreation, and Development Act of 2004 (bill) circumvents federal policies and national laws related to environmental protection and management of public lands, therefore undermining environmental and economic protections for rural and urban counties and Indian tribes. The bills provide tacit Congressional approval of the first steps in turning eastern Nevada into another Owens Valley with the potential for severe environmental and socio-economic harm.

The breadth and depth of our concerns is reflected in the wide diversity of organizations and individuals who have signed-on to this letter - rural and urban residents, farmers and hunters, environmentalists and ranchers, wilderness and wildlife groups, scientists and state legislators.

Beyond our general concerns, we wish to state our very serious questions about this bill, especially on Title III, Utility Corridors:

1. RIGHTS-OF-WAY: Any language about rights-of-way is premature and unnecessary. There are existing administrative procedures to address the need for and locations of utility rights-of-way. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is currently writing a Resource Management Plan in which these proposals will be addressed. These federal laws and procedures provide for full and open public participation in these critical decisions on public lands and waters. We urge the delegation to drop all waivers of Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requirements for this proposed action.

 2. EMERGENCY: There is an unspoken assumption in the bills that because of the drought, Las Vegas has an emergency need for water and waivers of normal administrative requirements. Eastern Nevada is also suffering impacts from this severe drought. We share Former Governor O'Callaghan's concerns in a 1990 editorial  '...destroying the natural environment in neighboring counties to satisfy the added development of an ever-expanding man-made environment of Las Vegas.'  Before the exportation project is expedited by Congressional legislation, there should be an independent study on the entire State's water needs and supply options.

We have heard the arguments that 1.7 million residents in Las Vegas have a greater right to ground water in rural Nevada than the 3,700 residents of Lincoln County. We quote from O'Callaghan's editorial, 'I doubt very much if a majority of today's residents of Las Vegas and Clark County want to siphon away the water needed by others. There's nothing wrong with seeking additional water from surrounding areas. But this should be done judiciously and in cooperation with the residents of those rural areas.' 

3. EIS REQUIREMENT: While we appreciate the bill's mandate for an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to be completed before the BLM grants utility corridors to the beneficiaries, the bill also mandates the BLM to grant the rights-of-way for the utility corridors. We question whether the EIS will be simply perfunctory since Congress has already mandated the utility corridors. This would signify that the “no action” alternative or any other alternatives will not be seriously studied in the EIS, thus negating the NEPA requirement for a full range of alternatives. We strongly urge a change in the language in section 301 (b)(1) by substituting “may” instead of “...shall” in granting the rights-of-way. This may help clear up the apparent contradictory language in these bills. The decision on granting utility corridors should be based on the results of the hydrologic studies and environmental reviews of whether water is available for export without serious impacts on existing users and the environment.

We also urge the inclusion of language in the bills requiring a rigorous analysis in the EIS of the need for the proposed water exportation project and water pipeline utility corridors. We find no such justification in the bill.

4. REVERSION CLAUSE: In the event that the Nevada State Engineer denies part or all of the applications for ground water pumping and export, a provision should be added to the bills for reversion of the utility corridors within a certain time, perhaps five years.

5. NEVADA STATE WATER LAW: We believe that the bills' proposal to grant water pipeline rights-of-way corridors to the Southern Nevada Water Authority and Lincoln County Water District and its contractor, Vidler Water Company, through legislation is premature and unwise. These bills pre-assume that the State Engineer will approve the applications and transfers and constitute undue federal pressure on the State Engineer, thereby undermining State jurisdiction over state waters.

6. WATER AS A PRIVATE COMMODITY: We strongly object to the bills' water pipeline utility rights-of-way proposals. Congress should not facilitate and legitimize marketing water as a private commodity through Vidler Water Company's contract with the Lincoln County Water District. We strongly urge all provisions for utility corridors for Vidler Water Company and Lincoln County Water District be dropped from this federal legislation.

7. HYDROLOGIC STUDY: While we appreciate the bill's requirement of a hydrologic study, the bill does not authorize funding for it, limits it to only White Pine County, and restricts the study to existing conditions and does not determine the impacts of ground water pumping on existing users and environmental water needs. The geographic scope is too limited because the carbonate aquifer underlies all of eastern Nevada and has at least six flow systems, none of which correspond with the White Pine County boundaries. Funding should be authorized for an expanded study. It should include the entire carbonate aquifer, not just the part in White Pine County: this would include White Pine, Nye, Lincoln, and Clark Counties, several counties in western Utah and Inyo County in eastern California. It should also be expanded to assess the estimated impacts of ground water pumping and export on existing users.

This is by no means an exhaustive list nor a detailed list. We believe the bills violate the legislative intent of FLPMA and NEPA, are legally challengeable and set a dangerous precedent for circumventing existing environmental protection and public land management laws. We also think these bills are detrimental to the state and rural counties, especially Lincoln, White Pine and Nye in Nevada, several counties in Utah and Inyo County in California, further depriving them of economic opportunities because of the loss of rural water for exportation to southern Nevada. Huge amounts of additional water will further drive speculation and exponential growth threatening the quality of life of urban residents.

Water and wildlife do not obey county or state boundaries. Piecemeal legislation often creates larger and more diverse problems.  Additionally, several national parks and wildlife refuges in Nevada are threatened by water exportation through pipeline corridors to Las Vegas.  These include Death Valley National Park, Lake Mead NRA, Great Basin National Park, Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, Desert National Wildlife Refuge, Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge.  Therefore, the organizations which have signed this letter object to S. 2532 and H.R. 4593 and urge you to consider the issues and changes we have recommended.



Michael Garrity, Alliance for the Wild Rockies
Katherine Rountree, Baker Business and Tourism Council
Daniel R. Patterson, Center for Biological Diversity
Peggy Maze Johnson, Citizen Alert
George Barnes, Death Valley Task Force
Merlin McColm, Elko County Conservation Association
Elyssa Rosen, Great Basin Mine Watch
Veronica Egan, Great Old Broads for Wilderness
Karen Kish, Lahontan Audubon Society
Tina Nappe, Lahontan Wetlands Coalition
Gale Dupree, Nevada Wildlife Federation
Sophie Sheppard, North West Great Basin Association
Bob Fulkerson, Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada
Hugh Jackson, Public Citizen
Susan Lynn, Public Resources Associates
Ellen Pillard, Toiyabe Chapter of Sierra Club
Elden Hughes, Desert Committee of the Sierra Club, California
Terry Steadman, Trout Unlimited, Great Basin Chapter
Dennis Ghiglieri, Truckee River Yacht Club
Jon Marvel, Western Watersheds Project, Idaho
Holly Wilson, White Pine Citizens for Proper Representation
Bethanie Walder, Wildlands CPR, Montana
Mike Prather, Owens Valley Committee
Frances Spivey-Weber, Mono Lake Committee


Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie
Assemblywoman Peggy Pierce
Former Assemblywoman Marcia de Braga
Louis Benezet, Pioche
Lorell Bleak, Panaca
Jim and Ann Brauer, Indian Springs
Paul and Lori Brown, Las Vegas
Jim Deacon, Las Vegas
Lance and Jo Dean, Elko County
Don Duff, Baker
Joy Fiore, Sandy Valley
JoAnne Garrett, Baker
Jan Gilbert, Washoe Valley
Launa Hall, Las Vegas
Bevan Lister, Pioche
Farrel Lytle, Lincoln County, Pioche
Manetta Lytle, Lincoln County, Pioche
James Martin, Reno
Alvin McLane, Reno
Kaye and James Medlin, Rachel
Ed Rothfuss, former Superintendent Death Valley National Park, Las Vegas
Don Shanks,  Pioche
Keith Stever, Pioche
Rose Strickland, Reno