In a parallel case, a state judge’s decision blocking the project is on appeal to the Nevada Supreme Court.
One 32-page federal suit was filed by the environmental group Center for Biological Diversity and the other 75-pager by a coalition of local governments, private organizations and Indian tribes. Among the plaintiffs in the latter case are White Pine County, the Great Basin Water Network, the Sierra Club and the Central Nevada Regional Water Authority, which addresses water resource issues for Churchill, Elko, Esmeralda, Eureka, Lander, Nye, Pershing and White Pine counties or about 65 percent of the land in Nevada, as recounted in this week’s newspaper column in The Ely Times and the Elko Daily Free Press.
While the counties expressly want to preserve the groundwater for their own future economic growth, including for mining, ranching, farming and recreational use, some of the plaintiff groups likely would oppose just about any use of any water anywhere that might in anyway harm any animal, bird, snail, snake or minnow that might walk, crawl, fly, slither or swim across the Great Basin.
The suit backed by the counties points out that the bid by the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) to tap 84,000 acre-feet of groundwater a year could have far-reaching impact.
According to state engineer records the groundwater in Cave, Dry Lake and Delamar valleys are linked to the White River Flow System and drawing down the water table in those valleys could affect water resources as far away as Pahranagat Valley, Lake Valley, Muddy River Springs Valley, Lower Moapa Valley, and Coyote Spring Valley.
“The proposed pumping would amount to a devastating groundwater mining project, under which the groundwater system would not even begin to approach equilibrium for thousands of years, with the potential of never reaching equilibrium,” the suit by the counties contends.
In a press release accompanying the filing of the lawsuits, one of the plaintiffs revealed his group’s aims. Rob Mrowka, a Nevada-based scientist for the Center for Biological Diversity, said, “Congress passed these laws to make sure our public lands are managed on the basis of multiple use, to protect irreplaceable cultural and natural resources for current and future generations. They exist so that the needs of future generations of Americans can be taken into account — not just short-term economic growth and greed.” (Emphasis added.)
The counties’ attorneys need to make sure their fellow plaintiffs from the environmental organizations don’t win a decision that locks the counties out of tapping the groundwater for local miners, ranchers, farmers and residents.