Just say no to the rural groundwater grab, once and for all

The Las Vegas newspaper today editorially points out the city’s primary water source is drying up. That’s obvious from the white bath tub ring around Lake Mead.

As to the answer to the problem, the editorialists suggest tapping groundwater from rural Nevada — a proposition that would be harmful for both the rural area and the urbanites.

Saying “make no mistake” twice, the editorial concludes:

The truth is that, historically, droughts along the Colorado River are normal and can last decades. As such, the continuing decline of Lake Mead is a reminder to develop whatever additional water resources we can. Reducing the standard of living in this region is not a solution.

Make no mistake, no one wants to build the rural groundwater pipeline. Indeed, several lawsuits aim to prevent it, and the cost of the project would be massive — many billions of dollars, including service on construction debt. But make no mistake, the water authority must be prepared to forge ahead if river conditions continue to deteriorate.

That would be a mistake.

According to the state engineer, who is water rights arbiter in Nevada, the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s plan to draw 84,000 acre-feet of groundwater would affect the water table outside the valleys that would be tapped. 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.

Lake Mead’s bath tub ring

One state lawsuit opposing the pipeline project contends, “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.”

That would deter rural development efforts.

As for urban Clark County, the bottom line is that it’s still too darned expensive.

The infrastructure cost is still $7.3 billion, according to a study by Hobbs, Ong & Associates of Las Vegas and Public Financial Management of Seattle. (The study: SNWA_Exh_383_Hobbs and Bonow Report) The cost per acre-foot just for the capital expense alone is well north of $2,000 per acre-foot. That’s while Colorado River water is being sold to farmers in California and Arizona for well less than $20 per acre-foot.

As the SNWA’s own study admits, water rates in Las Vegas would at least triple if the groundwater is tapped and piped south. That would deter development in Clark County.

The first that should be done is to fill Lake Mead with Lake Powell water.

Research for the Glen Canyon Institute by hydrologist Dr. Thomas Myers found that 260,000 to 390,000 acre-feet of water seeps into the banks of Lake Powell annually, which the Bureau of Reclamation, the manager of the river, fails to take into account.

That is Nevada’s annual allotment of Colorado River water.

But the real solution lies in changing water from a socialized commodity to one openly bought and sold in a free market.

Allow the municipalities, industries, farmers and ranchers with existing water rights to buy, sell and trade in an open market. Why would a farmer continue to grow rice or cotton with his $20 an acre-foot water, when he can sell it to the water authority in Las Vegas for, say, $200? Instead of allowing that allotment to flow through the dams and canals to Yuma, Las Vegas could take that share from Lake Mead.

No need for a water grab. Problem solved.


16 comments on “Just say no to the rural groundwater grab, once and for all

  1. Winston Smith says:

    Time for desert dwellers to declare themselves Fremen and start wearing still-suits.


  2. Steve says:

    A quick read shows Lake Powell was controversial from the start.

    Trouble is, it produces electricity today and that is becoming as important as the water it holds to the region.

  3. Rincon says:

    Your solution is the only reasonable one, Thomas. One can only hope that the rich farmers can be overcome in their efforts to continue the status quo. One small modifier: If water is sold at its cost of production, then the present low rates will guarantee wastage of water until the lack of reserves becomes extreme. At that point, prices will skyrocket. Should we make efforts to conserve water now or just hope that the drought will end soon?

    One more question: Why would someone that distrusts the science community just take their word for it that the present drought is normal? How do they know, especially when one major study shows the pattern of drought in the last 100 years or so to be more severe than any similar period since 1000 AD or so. http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/v3/n3/full/nclimate1693.html Can you show me the other research that says this is all normal?

  4. The 20th century on the Colorado River basin was the wettest since the 4th century.


    The market will take care of supply.

  5. I don’t distrust the science community, just the quacks with a self-serving agenda and the sky-is-falling Luddites.

  6. Rincon says:

    Thank you Thomas. Apples and oranges, it turns out. The data in the study I cited actually showed the 20th century increase in precipitation, mostly in the cold season. Mea culpa. The temperatures were higher though. The researcher’s point was not a lack of rainfall , but rather an increasing dryness and death of vegetation due to lack of water in the warm season. Not necessarily applicable to lake levels, although evaporation is a significant factor.

    As I said, you’re right about the market, of course. If the lake drops another 200 feet or so, water will suddenly become very expensive and lots of farmers will be forced to stop wasting water. Until then, party on! Another way to do it would be to increase water fees incrementally as the water level drops past a danger point and then decrease them as the lake fills again. This would minimize the problem if a truly major drought occurs. When water becomes expensive enough, then they can access the groundwater.

  7. Steve says:

    So the western rocky snow pack is 208 percent above normal this year and the Bureau of Reclamation is predicting a 40 foot rise in Lake Powell this summer. Interesting for a western drought of biblical proportions. At least, that is, according to those politically driven climate scientists.


  8. Athos says:

    The Freeman (led by Paul Atreides) we’re a fierce fighting people.
    So were the depression era soldiers in WW 2.

  9. Athos says:

    Maybe THAT’S why Pinocchio is in charge. To blow up the country, and get us back to fighting weight, again.

    ‘Course, that not why he lies all the time. He just wants to blow up the country!

  10. Rincon says:

    The drought of “biblical proportions is primarily in California, and it is extreme, but much of the Colorado River watershed is in good shape, so the river is not greatly affected. The reason you hear so much about it is because it is having a marked effect on fruit and vegetable prices. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/05/16/california-drought_n_5340596.html

  11. Steve says:

    A large part of California’s drought problem is self inflicted…from taking water in the central valley and piping it to the cities in the south. Since then, Californians have actually increased their use of water. Their aqueducts and taking of rural water has made the population centers feel as though they own all that states water.

    We should learn from California’s experience and NOT build any pipeline to grab rural water.

  12. Rincon says:

    The cities have the money and the voters. The result is inevitable.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Where’s your green weinies now, Rin? Oh yeah, their using farm water to save the smelts!

  14. […] why the Southern Nevada Water Authority has been contemplating spending as much as $15 billion to bring ground water from counties to the north at a cost per acre-foot —  just for the capital expense — of […]

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