Vegas water agency vows fight for groundwater plan

Vegas water agency vows fight for groundwater plan

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LAS VEGAS (AP) -- Southern Nevada water administrators plan to challenge a judge's ruling that blocks a multibillion-dollar plan to tap groundwater from a vast swath of eastern Nevada and pipe it to Las Vegas, an authority official said Wednesday.

"It is our intention to appeal," Southern Nevada Water Authority spokesman Scott Huntley said. He said authority board members will be asked next month to approve taking the case to the Nevada Supreme Court.

Senior Judge Norman Robison issued a strongly worded order last week that the state's top water official abused his discretion in approving the pumping plan in 2008.

Robison, of Gardnerville, ruled that State Engineer Tracy Taylor acted "arbitrarily, capriciously and oppressively" in granting the Las Vegas-based water authority permission to tap underground water in the Cave, Delamar and Dry Lake valleys in central Lincoln County.

The judge ordered Taylor's decision "vacated and remanded for further proceedings consistent with this decision." The Nevada Supreme Court could hear an appeal by the state engineer, the water authority, or both.

Robison said the state's top water regulator bypassed usual studies before allowing groundwater to be transferred out of a basin. Taylor was "simply hoping for the best while committing to undo his decision if the worst occurs," the judge said.

Water from the three valleys would flow about 150 miles south to Las Vegas through a proposed 250-mile long pipeline stretching to the Snake River Valley in White Pine County along the Utah state line.

Officials say the pipeline, projected to cost $3.5 billion, would let Las Vegas tap aquifers in other counties to relieve the region's reliance on the drought-stricken Colorado River. The Las Vegas area, home to almost 2 million of Nevada's 2.7 million residents, currently gets about 90 percent of its water from the Lake Mead reservoir behind Hoover Dam.

Taylor's July 2008 decision granted approval for the authority to draw enough water beginning as early as 2013 from the three rural valleys to supply some 37,000 Las Vegas homes. But he ordered the authority to collect data from a monitoring and mitigation program for at least two years before beginning to pipe water from the area.

A month later, a group of ranchers, environmentalists and others opposed to the pipeline challenged Taylor's decision.

New Mexico-based lawyer Simeon Herskovits, representing pipeline opponents, issued a statement Tuesday applauding Robison for reversing "an obviously unsound decision."

"There can be no doubt that the long-term interest of all Nevadans will be best served by the judge's decision to use common sense and reason in applying Nevada's water law," Herskovits said.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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