From the Great Basin Water Network (Kyle Roerink):
Today, after more than 30 years of fighting to defeat SNWA’s ill-conceived Las Vegas Pipeline, the Great Basin Water Network responded to the news that the Southern Nevada Water Authority will not appeal litigation addressing water rights applications and corresponding 3M plans to the Nevada Supreme Court. The litigation was another flash point in the fate of the pipeline – the 300-mile, $15.5 billion project that would drain Eastern Nevada’s groundwater supply.
“Residents of the Great Basin breathed a great sigh of relief today after learning of SNWA’s decision,” said Kyle Roerink, Executive Director of the Great Basin Water Network. “Our attorneys, White Pine County officials, tribes, and front-line communities in Nevada and Utah have all said this project was illegal for more than three decades. Today’s news vindicates their long-held fierce opposition and years of fighting a David-vs-Goliath battle. But there is still hard work that must be done. SNWA must revoke both sets of its remaining water rights applications in places like Snake Valley and withdraw its application for the pipeline’s right of way with the BLM. We have been in discussion with the SNWA over these matters and look forward to seeing what comes next. The proof of SNWA’s intent will show itself in the coming months when they take the proper next steps to nullify all of the water grab applications.”
“Judge Estes’ recent ruling completed an unbroken line of seven victories that opponents of SNWA’s Pipeline Project have won over SNWA in both state and federal court going back to 2009,” said Simeon Herskovits of Advocates for Community and Environment, lead attorney for the broad coalition of pipeline opponents. “In his March 9 Decision Judge Estes authoritatively dismantled all of SNWA’s legal arguments and their persistent misrepresentations of the facts. Over the years, water officials throughout Nevada and the West have dismissed any chance of us succeeding in this long fight and others have pleaded with us to accept the inevitability of this ill-conceived project. Instead, we have completely defeated SNWA in court. The water they’ve wanted to grab since 1989 never was there for the taking and never will be.”
From The Associated Press (Ken Ritter) via The Las Vegas Sun:
The Southern Nevada Water Authority said in a statement it won’t appeal a judge’s order for the authority to recalculate the amount of water that might be available below ground to supply the project.
The authority will instead update its 50-year water plan to focus on water conservation and solidifying ties to other states that, like Nevada, rely on water from the Colorado River.
That makes Judge Robert Estes’ March 9 decision the final word on the authority’s bid for state approval to use water rights obtained when SNWA bought ranch land in the 1980s in arid valleys in White Pine and Lincoln counties near the Utah border…
Opponents maintained that tribal nations’ due process rights were denied and the pumping plan did little to prevent possible damage to cultural areas including a grove of swamp cedars that area Shoshone tribes consider sacred in the uncommonly wet Spring Valley area in White Pine County.
The authority initially won approval from the state’s top water official, then-State Engineer Jason King, to draw enough groundwater to supply some 170,000 new homes per year in Las Vegas. The authority planned to build a 250-mile pipeline for the project.
In 2010, the state Supreme Court ordered King hold new hearings, and King in 2011 again approved the authority plan.
Estes in 2013 labeled King’s decisions “arbitrary and capricious” and ordered the recalculation. The state high court backed Estes and King grudgingly rejected the authority’s proposal in 2018.
Las Vegas currently gets about 90% of the water used by most of its 2.2 million residents and more than 40 million tourists a year from the Lake Mead reservoir behind Hoover Dam. The lake was last full in 1983. After 20 years of drought, it is now less than half-capacity. Officials had cast the pipeline plan as key to ensuring a reliable supply.
Patrick Donnelly, of the Center for Biological Diversity in Nevada, said opponents know the water authority still has pumping rights applications pending and still seeks right-of-way approvals from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management for the 250-mile pipeline route.
From The Nevada Independent (Daniel Rothberg):
The decision means the water agency is shelving a development project that has long inflamed tensions between rural and urban Nevada, from the Legislature to the courts, and eclipsed nearly all other water issues in the state. The water authority first applied for the water rights in 1989, worried about water scarcity on the Colorado River and a growing population.
The project set off a firestorm of controversy, with environmentalists, tribes and ranchers worried that the project would dry springs, harm wildlife habitat and irreparably alter ecosystems.
Because of increased conservation, the water authority held off on the project for decades, despite pursuing entitlements for the project in state and federal court, as well as in the Legislature.
According to a statement from the water authority, it will reassess its water supply portfolio “after the current pandemic passes and normal operations are restored.” The agency plans to present an update focusing on “strengthening beneficial partnerships with other Colorado River states as well as further advancing Southern Nevada’s world-recognized water conservation efforts.”
In recent months, the water authority has discussed the possibility of investing in a Southern California reuse project, in exchange for additional water from the Colorado River, where Las Vegas gets about 90 percent of its water. It also has increased its efforts to boost conservation across the Las Vegas Valley, and investing in a desalination project remains on the table.
Although the decision ends the pipeline project in its current formation, it does not preclude the water authority from developing an importation project in the future. The water authority still owns Eastern Nevada ranches with associated water rights. It also has applications for other water rights that, if awarded by state regulators, could be tapped by Las Vegas in the future.
Kyle Roerink, the executive director of the Great Basin Water Network, called the decision not to appeal the court case “a great first step,” but he said he still had concerns about the water rights applications and a federal right-of-way from the Bureau of Land Management. He said the water authority must take the legal steps to relinquish those entitlements associated with the pipeline.