Utah groups want to tank Nevada's groundwater pumping plan

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SALT LAKE CITY — A broad coalition of groups say a judge should tank a mitigation and monitoring plan associated with Nevada's efforts to pump groundwater in the arid desert next to Utah.

A petition, led by Nevada's White Pine County and the Great Basin Water Network, was filed Monday in Nevada's 7th District Court objecting to the "3M" plan approved in State Engineer Jason King's August ruling.

"Earlier iterations of the 3M plan were struck down by Nevada courts, and the small changes made this time leave it no less deficient," said attorney Simeon Herskovits, of Advocates for Community and Environment. "Allowing approval of the 3M plan to go unchallenged could have dangerous implications for Nevada, and facilitate a future iteration of (the Southern Nevada Water Authority's) pipeline."

The Southern Nevada Water Authority for nearly 30 years has sought water rights to tap groundwater in eastern Nevada and deliver it to the Las Vegas area in a $3 billion, 285-mile pipeline.

Last month, King denied water right applications in parts of Lincoln and White Pine counties.

The Southern Nevada Water Authority is appealing that decision, as is the state engineer himself, who argues he was "boxed in" on the denial based on previous court rulings, and should have been allowed to grant the water rights.

"He littered his ruling with statements about how he didn't think the law was right," Herskovits said.


In this latest petition filed in the water war, coalition members say they agree with the denial of the water right applications, but say approval of the 3M plan is wrong.

"It doesn't go far enough, it is not specific enough. … There is no guarantee they will actually be able to do anything about the impacts of pumping until it is too late," said Howard Watts, spokesman for the Great Basin Water Network.

The coalition is made up of groups that include the Utah Audubon Council, Utah Rivers Council, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, multiple irrigation companies and the Nevada Farm Bureau.

The water authority initially wanted to tap groundwater in Snake Valley, which straddles the Nevada-Utah border.

While Snake Valley is no longer at risk of groundwater pumping by the Nevada water district, neighboring hydrologic basins in eastern Nevada are targeted as a source of water to meet growing demand in southern Nevada.

In this April 16, 2013, file photo, a "bathtub ring" shows the high water mark on Lake Mead near Boulder City, Nev. (Photo: Julie Jacobson, Associated Press)
In this April 16, 2013, file photo, a "bathtub ring" shows the high water mark on Lake Mead near Boulder City, Nev. (Photo: Julie Jacobson, Associated Press)

Multiple petitions for review are flowing into the Nevada district court, including requests by three Native American tribes, Millard and Juab counties and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The church owns Cleveland Ranch in Spring Valley in White Pine County, where it argued the groundwater pumping would put its spring and irrigated land at risk.

The water district first applied for water rights in 1989, seeking to pump 84,000 acre-feet of water from a trio of valleys in eastern Nevada.

About 90 percent of the Las Vegas area's supply of water comes from Lake Mead, which is half full and under continuing pressure from a yearslong drought in the Southwest.

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