The Nevada Supreme Court has dealt another blow to the Las Vegas attempt to grab groundwater from Lincoln and White Pine counties.
In December 2013, state court Senior Judge Robert Estes ruled that State Engineer Jason King had failed to establish adequate criteria for protecting the residents of eastern Nevada and western Utah from damages that might result from drawing down the groundwater to supply the Southern Nevada Water Authority with 84,000 acre-feet a year of groundwater from Spring, Cave, Dry Lake and Delamar valleys.
Now the high court has ruled that since the judge remanded the matter to the state engineer for further studies and review that the case is not yet appealable.
The unpublished opinion cited the judge’s own words about how the engineer’s findings were lacking. Judge Estes repeatedly called the plans for monitoring, mitigating and managing the water transfer “arbitrary and capricious.”
“There are no objective standards to determine when mitigation will be required and implemented,” the judge wrote. “The Engineer has listed what mitigation efforts can possibly be made, i.e., stop pumping, modifying pumping, change location of pumps, drill new wells … but does not cite objective standards of when mitigation is necessary.”
Judge Estes concluded that if “it is premature to set triggers and thresholds, it is premature to grant water rights.”
In a press release, attorney Simeon Herskovits, representing one the groups suing to halt the water grab, Great Basin Water Network, said, “SNWA has had 25 years to provide basic information proving that its proposed project to pump and pipe water out of these rural valleys would be sustainable and comply with the most basic requirements of Nevada’s water law. The fact that they not only have failed to produce such evidence in all that time, but also have gone on record saying repeatedly that they cannot produce such evidence, only goes to show this misguided proposal never has been and never will be scientifically defensible or legally permissible.”
Abby Johnson, president of GBNW, added, “All of the science actually shows that SNWA’s plan to pump groundwater out of these rural valleys and pipe it down to the Las Vegas Valley simply will not be sustainable and cannot avoid destroying existing water rights and the environment in the vast affected area.”
Since Estes’ ruling a study by the U.S. Geological Survey calculated all the annual groundwater recharge for the valleys involved from various sources is about 175,000 acre-feet. The current outflow — current wells, springs, streams and outflow to other aquifers — is almost precisely the same amount of water — equilibrium.
“Increased well withdrawals within these high transmissivity areas will likely affect a large part of the study area, resulting in declining groundwater levels, as well as leading to a decrease in natural discharge to springs …” the study concluded.
It is those springs and streams that support livestock, agriculture and a vast array of wildlife, some of which are threatened or endangered. Declining groundwater levels would mean local wells might have to be drilled deeper, a very expensive proposition for local landowners and homeowners.
A study for SNWA found the cost of wells, pumps and pipelines could top $15 billion and triple Las Vegas water bills.
Whiskey might be cheaper.