Water fight continues in eastern Nevada, western Utah with church-owned ranch in the middle

Water fight continues in eastern Nevada, western Utah with church-owned ranch in the middle

(Scott G Winterton, KSL)

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SALT LAKE CITY — Attorneys for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Millard and Juab counties were in a Nevada court Tuesday and Wednesday arguing that a monitoring plan for a proposed groundwater pumping project is insufficient to protect water resources in eastern Nevada and western Utah.

The plan by the Southern Nevada Water Authority is also opposed by the Great Basin Water Network and the Goshute, Duckwater and Ely tribes.

According to the network, the project’s first phase aims to siphon at least 58 billion gallons of water annually away from the Great Basin via a 300-mile pipeline to Las Vegas.

At one point, groundwater pumping was being pursued in Snake Valley, which straddles the Nevada-Utah border, but the water authority is now focused on adjacent valleys that include Spring Valley where The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints operates Cleveland Ranch.

In a filing before Nevada’s 7th Judicial District Court in Ely, church attorneys argued the ruling issued in 2018 by the Nevada Division Water Resources approving the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s management plan enables groundwater pumping that will cause “drastic” groundwater drawdowns and annihilate existing water rights.

“... undisputed evidence shows that (the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s) proposed system would mine millions of acre-feet of water from permanent storage without ever reaching” balance, the attorneys wrote.

Attorneys for the church said it is the water authority, and the water authority alone, that makes the determination of what triggers mitigation, and how that mitigation is carried out.

“In most cases, there are no deadlines. There is no substantial evidence that any or all of the proposed mitigation techniques will actually work,” they wrote, adding that the plan invokes “unilateral nonpublic evaluation” in an assessment process that lacks objectivity.

Kyle Roerink, executive director of the Great Basin Water Network, said a number of natural resources would be in peril if the groundwater pumping project becomes a reality.

“The (water authority) is asking for an exemption from the laws of Nevada, the laws of nature, the laws of economics, and the laws of morality,” Roerink said. “This project is a mirage where a few powerful interests will see some short-term gains while the rest of Nevada — rural and urban — suffers in the long run.”

The water authority is seeking to overturn the denial of water right applications following a 2013 court ruling so it can proceed with a project to tap what it describes as a “significant amount of unappropriated water in Spring Valley,” that is critical to shoring up its water resources going into the future.

It stresses that it is entitled to the water under the doctrine of prior appropriation and denial of the water right applications was unreasonable and contrary to law.

But opponents say any pumping in Spring Valley will inevitably impact neighboring Snake Valley because the areas are hydrologically connected.

Attorneys for Millard and Juab counties pressed their case in court that the monitoring the water authority plans to do is too limited in scope and does not provide enough protection for water resources in Snake Valley in western Utah.

Tribes argued the pumping plan puts in jeopardy important historical, cultural and sacred sites that include swamp cedar trees and springs vital for traditional and religious customs.

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Amy Joi O'Donoghue
Amy Joi O’Donoghue is a reporter for the Utah InDepth team at the Deseret News with decades of expertise in land and environmental issues.


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