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UMA takes stand against Snake Valley water deal



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SALT LAKE CITY -- The state's top medical organization is taking a stand against a controversial water deal between Utah and Nevada. It would allow Las Vegas to drain water from aquifers in Utah's West Desert.

The Utah Medical Association worries that taking water from the Snake Valley groundwater system will result in serious dust storms. They say that dust could expose Utahns to a slew of dangers.

It happens often, most recently Tuesday: dust, rolling in from the West Desert, spoiling air quality downwind.

Now the state's top medical group, the 3,500-member Utah Medical Association, warns a proposed deal between Utah and Nevada to divert water from the Snake Valley could make the problem worse.

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The Utah Medical Association (UMA) is the state's largest physicians group with more than 3,500 members. According to its website, its foundation "Foundation issues financial grants for projects to improve or support education of physicians and nurses; to improve facilities and treatment options; to support public health projects that serve to mitigate or prevent disease - all specifically for the benefit of the citizens of Utah."
"This just clearly represents an unacceptable public health risk; because the end result will be more dust, more pollution and more disease," says Brian Moench, with the Utah Medical Association and Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment. In a letter to the state, the group warns the deal could put threaten the "health and livelihood" of West Desert residents and cause "adverse health and quality of life impacts" statewide.

"We share the same concerns the doctors have," says Mike Styler, director of the Utah Department of National Resources. "My response to them would be that's the purpose we have the agreement: to keep water in the valley. In my worst-case scenario, I can't see over 25 percent of the water leaving the valley."

The deal includes monitoring of air quality and a provision to stop the pumps if the dust gets too bad.

**Who are the Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment?**
The Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment (UPHE) is a small group of about 200 health professionals, formed in 2007, with concerns about health risks currently present in our environment. It is dedicated to protecting the health and well-being of the citizens of Utah by promoting science-based education and interventions that result in progressive, measurable improvements to the environment.
"It is clearly included that stopping the pumping is a possible outcome, and Southern Nevada Water Authority Agreed with that," says John Harja, director of the Public Lands Policy Coordination Office. The doctors point to troubling situations elsewhere: Central Asia's Aral Sea is now 10 percent the size it once was, California's Owen Valley is now a dry lake bed after water went south to Los Angeles, and drought-caused dust storms--like the one in Sydney last week. They say disturbed dust particles could carry carcinogens, like mercury, radioactive elements and potentially lethal fungus spores.

"If this pipeline is built, this will represent the single biggest threat to air quality for the future of the state," Moench says.

Wednesday was last day of public comment. State officials say they will review those comments, make adjustments and come up with a finished product in next few months.

E-mail: jdaley@ksl.com

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John Daley

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