Newspaper column: DACA rhetoric just muddies the waters

Pro-DACA gathering in Las Vegas earlier this month. (R-J pix)

The vitriol being spewed over President Trump’s suspension of Obama’s executive fiat to defer deportation of illegal immigrants brought to the United States as children is nothing more than pretentious and pointless political patronizing.

Nevada’s Democratic delegation to Washington was unmatched in its heated hyperbole.

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto called Trump a racist and a xenophobe, firing off a missive declaring the “decision to end DACA protections for DREAMers is not guided by sound policy, but by xenophobia and myths. DREAMers who benefit from DACA know no other country other than the U.S. Denying them DACA protection unjustly rips away their future, exposes them to job loss, and threatens them with deportation from the only country they have ever known.”

For the acronym deprived, DACA stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the name given by Obama to an executive order to defer deportations of illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. DREAMers is a derivation of the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, which has been pending in various forms in Congress since August of 2001 without passage.

When Congress failed to act, Obama took it on his own in June 2012 to do what Congress had not.

Even though Trump gave Congress six months to remedy his rescinding of DACA and pass the DREAM Act, Rep. Jacky Rosen declared it was wrong to invite “these young people to come out of the shadows, raise their hands, and make themselves known, the United States made a promise to those who came here as children. President Trump is now reneging on that promise …”

Rep. Ruben Kihuen, making the obligatory observation that he was once an undocumented immigrant brought here by his parents, said in an email that the decision tramples this country’s values and shatters the hopes and dreams of the 800,000 who have signed up for DACA. He called the decision “heartless and cruel.”

Rep. Dina Titus said, “Ending DACA appeals to xenophobic beliefs and goes against the founding principles of our nation” — ignoring the fact it was Obama who made a promise he had no power to make.

In a statement announcing the DACA decision, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said, “This policy was implemented unilaterally to great controversy and legal concern after Congress rejected legislative proposals to extend similar benefits on numerous occasions to this same group of illegal aliens.

“In other words, the executive branch, through DACA, deliberately sought to achieve what the legislative branch specifically refused to authorize on multiple occasions. Such an open-ended circumvention of immigration laws was an unconstitutional exercise of authority by the Executive Branch.”

In contrast to Nevada’s Democratic delegates, its Republicans reacted by saying it is now time for Congress to do its job.

Sen. Dean Heller issued a statement to the Reno newspaper saying, “While I remain concerned about the way in which DACA came to life, I’ve made clear that I support the program because hard working individuals who came to this country through no fault of their own as children should not be immediately shown the door.”

Heller noted that he is a cosponsor of the Bridge Act, which provides legal status for so-called DREAMers while Congress works toward a permanent solution to immigration problems.

“Just as I have in the past, I’ll continue to work with my colleagues to reform our broken immigration system and that must start with securing our borders …” Heller’s statement continued.

Rep. Mark Amodei put out a statement noting that he is a sponsor of a bill called Recognizing America’s Children Act, which would provide a way for childhood immigrants to earn legal residency.

“Since I’ve been here, I’ve called on congressional leadership to act on immigration reform. I would always rather be criticized for attempting to move this issue toward a solution, than criticized for repeated inaction,” Amodei said in a statement. “Now, Congress has six months to do the job it’s supposed to do according to the Constitution. If we’re unable to do that job, then 800,000 immigrants will be affected.”

Amodei further noted that Congress has not passed any substantive immigration reform since Ronald Reagan was president, three decades ago, adding that if any blame is to be attached to this it is rightfully Congress’.

The Democrats’ rancorous rhetoric does nothing to move toward a compromise and might well jeopardize that goal, especially if they categorically reject border security as a part of the package.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

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Newspaper column: Learn from the mistakes of the past, not erase them

Wheeler Peak (right) and Jeff Davis Peak (left)

This paroxysm of efforts to eradicate all monuments and place names that memorialize historic leaders of the Confederacy serves as merely a distraction from real problems, wasting time and money that could be devoted to worthy endeavors.

The latest target of this futile campaign appears to be the name of Jeff Davis Peak in Great Basin National Park.

According to the park’s website, the monicker was first attached to what is now Wheeler Peak, the tallest point in the park and the second tallest in Nevada. It was given that name by Lt. Col. Edward Steptoe of U.S. Army Corps of Topographical Engineers in 1855 while Jefferson Davis served as secretary of the War Department, a half dozen years before the Civil War began.

After the Civil War, during which Davis served as president of the Confederacy, an Army mapping expedition headed by Lt. George Montague Wheeler, named the peak for Wheeler and the Jeff Davis tag was shifted to a shorter nearby peak.

In May the Reno newspaper reported that, even though statues of Confederate leaders were being torn down in New Orleans, there was no clamor to erase the Davis name from the 12,771-foot peak. The penultimate paragraph of the account stated, “By today’s standards Jeff Davis is an unlikely choice that appears out of step with contemporary naming practices. But modern standards don’t undo prior names which means, for the foreseeable future, the name of a Confederate president will maintain a place of honor in Nevada.”

Actually, such a mountain top name change took place a couple of years ago. After bearing the name of President William McKinley for 98 years, the tallest peak in North America in Alaska was renamed to its original native American name Denali, which means “the great one” in Athabascan. The White House said the name change “recognizes the sacred status of Denali to generations of Alaska Natives.”

Earlier this month, the Las Vegas newspaper reported that there are now a couple of bids to remove the Davis name. It said two applications have been filed with the state and national naming boards to eradicate the Davis name and replace it with some other name.

The paper reported that one application called for renaming the peak for Las Vegas civil rights leader James McMillan or one of the Shoshone names for the peak. Another called for naming the peak for Robert Smalls, an escaped slave who fought for the Union.

This month’s meeting agenda for the Nevada State Board on Geographic Names lists an action item in which a peak in White Pine County could be named Smalls Peak. There is no mention as to what it is currently called, if anything.

According to Dennis Cassinelli in a recent newspaper column, political correctness has been whitewashing Nevada geographical names for years. Colorful names like Chicken Shit Springs and Squaw Tit Butte have disappeared from maps simply at the whim of squeamish government mapmakers.

Now squeamishness is being extended to those who fought for the Confederacy.

Yes, Davis was a slave owner who sought to continue what was euphemistically called “our peculiar institution” in the South.

But in the waning years of his life Davis was an advocate for reunifying the nation, saying in a speech in 1888: “I feel no regret that I stand before you this afternoon a man without a country, for my ambition lies buried in the grave of the Confederacy. There has been consigned not only my ambition, but the dogmas upon which that Government was based. The faces I see before me are those of young men; had I not known this I would not have appeared before you. Men in whose hands the destinies of the South land lie, for love of her I break my silence, to let it bury its dead, its hopes and aspirations; before you lies the future — a future full of golden promise; a future of expanding national glory, before which all of the world shall stand amazed. Let me beseech you to lay aside all rancor, all bitter sectional feeling, and to make your places in the ranks of those who will bring about a consummation devoutly to be wished — a reunited country.”

What’s in a name? History is not changed, just forgotten, perhaps along with the lessons that should’ve been learned? We could use more unifying and less dividing.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Newspaper column: What a difference a single word makes

Though the Nevada Constitution clearly states that any person serving in one branch of government may not perform “any function” of another branch, the Legislature’s lawyers, the Legislative Counsel Bureau (LCB), in 2002 penned a non-binding opinion that stated a person may serve in the Legislature if they do not exercise “any sovereign functions” in another branch.

The definition of the adjective sovereign is: “possessing supreme or ultimate power,” thus the LCB adulteration of the Constitution emasculates the plain language of the Separation of Powers Clause.

The Nevada Supreme Court will have the opportunity to clear up this matter.

State Sen. Heidi Gansert (R-J pix)

The Nevada Policy Research Institute’s (NPRI) legal arm, the Center for Justice and Constitutional Litigation (CJCL), this past week filed notice with the state high court that it is appealing the decision of a Carson City judge dismissing its lawsuit against a state senator for violating the Separation of Powers Clause.

“Defying the clear language of the Nevada constitution, Nevada Supreme Court precedent, and a 2004 Attorney General Advisory Opinion by then-attorney-general Governor Brian Sandoval, Judge (James) Russell relied upon a non-binding opinion from the Legislative Counsel Bureau in his ruling from the bench — but we believe the actual words of the state constitution should matter more,” declared CJCL Director Joseph Becker in an email press release.

In that 2004 opinion, Sandoval noted that in the 1957 Supreme Court case cited by the LCB as the basis for its opinion, the court never got to the point of ruling on the Separation of Powers Clause and dismissed it on other grounds.

CJCL sued state Sen. Heidi Gansert because she also is an employee of the University of Nevada, Reno.

“We believe the plain language of the constitution should take precedent over a non-binding LCB opinion, or the preferences of the ruling class,” commented Becker. “And we look forward to the appeals process finally giving further legal clarity on the issue.”

This fight has been going on for years.

There have been years in which nearly half the lawmakers in Carson City were either government employees or the spouses of government employees. In some years every Senate and Assembly leadership post was held by a public employee.

Currently 10 lawmakers hold down state or local government jobs. As such, despite clear conflicts of interest, the lawmakers can vote themselves raises and hand out largesse to their employers — as Gansert did in this past session by voting for 2 percent raises for state employees and a capital expenditure budget that included more than $40 million for a new engineering building at UNR.

In 2004 then-Secretary of State Dean Heller asked the Supreme Court to remedy this skirting of the Constitution, but the court ruled that the Constitution gives lawmakers the power to determine the qualifications of their members. Thus, the judicial branch telling the legislative branch who its members may be violates the Separation of Powers Clause.

Joseph Becker

But the court did allow that “declaratory relief could be sought by someone with a ‘legally protectible interest,’ such as a person seeking the executive branch position held by the legislator.”

Under that guidance, the CJCL first sued state Sen. Mo Denis on behalf of a person who wanted Denis’ $56,000-a-year job at the Public Utilities Commission. A judge declared the case moot when Denis resigned his PUC job.

NPRI’s lawyers came back with a similar suit against Gansert on behalf of a person who wants her public relations job at UNR — a job that yields $210,000 a year in pay and benefits.

Now that the district court judge has ruled that the Separation of Powers Clause is meaningless, it is back to the Supreme Court.

The court should heed the words of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis in a dissenting opinion from 1926, “The doctrine of the separation of powers was adopted by the Convention of 1787, not to promote efficiency but to preclude the exercise of arbitrary power. The purpose was, not to avoid friction, but, by means of the inevitable friction incident to the distribution of the governmental powers among three departments, to save the people from autocracy.”

Or they could turn to a 1967 Nevada Supreme Court opinion that flatly stated, “The division of powers is probably the most important single principle of government declaring and guaranteeing the liberties of the people.”

The words of the state Constitution should not be made meaningless by adding a word plucked out of thin air.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Newspaper column: Time to release Bunkerville defendants on bail?

Bunkerville standoff (Reuters pix)

Whether you think the defendants in the Bunkerville standoff are a bunch of lunatic, dangerous gun-nuts who should be locked up and the key thrown away or upstanding patriots defending property and constitutional rights in the face of belligerent bureaucrats, it matters not what you think.

What matters is what jurors think.

So far jurors seem less than enthusiastic about embracing the pile of charges heaped on the first of the standoff defendants.

When Bureau of Land Management agents and their hired cowboys showed up at Cliven Bundy’s ranch in April 2014 to confiscate his cattle — for which he had refused to pay grazing fees for decades — hundreds of people showed up to exercise their First Amendment right to protest. Some also exercised their Second Amendment right to bear arms.

A year and half ago prosecutors filed charges of obstruction of justice, conspiracy, extortion, assault and impeding federal officers among other things against 17 of those protesters, including Bundy and four of his sons. Until this past week all remained jailed without bail.

The defendants were separated into three groups for trial. The first trial took place in April with the other two to follow shortly thereafter. But those plans went awry.

The April trial of six men ended with no one being convicted of conspiracy, the most serious charge. Two men were convicted of some of the charges and jurors hung on the remaining four. Jurors told defense lawyers after the trial they never came close to convicting four defendants, voting 10-2 in favor of acquitting two of them and splitting on the others.

Despite the majority of jurors in the first trial voting to acquit, all four were retried. This past week the jurors in that trial — despite not being allowed to hear defense arguments about constitutional rights or possible law enforcement excesses —reached not-guilty verdicts on 34 of 40 counts.

The six men and six women acquitted Ricky Lovelien of Oklahoma and Steven Stewart of Idaho of all charges.

The jurors could not reach a unanimous verdict on four counts against Eric Parker and two counts against Scott Drexler. Parker’s attorney told The Associated Press that a juror told him that votes were 11-1 for acquittal on those six counts.

Prosectors nonetheless have decided to retry Drexler and Parker on those six counts in September, meaning the remaining 11 defendants will have their trials pushed back yet again, even though the Sixth Amendment guarantees a speedy trial.

Drexler and Parker, both of Idaho, are being allowed to return home pending their third trial on ever dwindling charges.

Cliven Bundy’s attorney, Bret Whipple, and the attorneys for several other defendants have filed motions seeking to have their clients released pending trial.

“Our position has always been that it’s political instead of criminal,” Whipple told the Las Vegas newspaper. “And now it seems to be subjective instead of factual. There’s a whole fairness issue that I think is overlooked.”

Etched on the facade of the Supreme Court building in Washington is: “Equal Justice Under Law.”

In the Bunkerville standoff prosecution thus far two have been convicted of some charges, two acquitted of all charges and two face retrial on some charges, reportedly due to the intransigence of one juror.

Only one man has been sentenced, and his conviction may have had less to do with what he said and did at the standoff than what he said afterward.

Gregory Burleson, an avowed Arizona militiaman, told an undercover FBI agent posing as a documentary filmmaker, “I was hell bent on killing federal agents that had turned their back on we the people.”

Burleson testified, “Yes, I said a lot of crazy things. I’m ashamed of them actually. … Looking back at them, it’s like, ‘Wow, obviously I shouldn’t drink.’”

He was sentenced to 68 years in prison. For shooting off his mouth, not his guns?

Shortly after Cliven Bundy, 71, was arrested the prosecution argued that “Bundy is a danger to the community and poses a risk of non-appearance,” even though he agreed to any travel, firearm or GPS tracking restrictions the government might impose.

“Cliven Bundy is about as likely to hurt someone or to flee Nevada as a desert tortoise,” attorney Joel Hansen argued at the time. “It just isn’t going to happen.”

It costs nearly $90 a day to house a federal prisoner. Perhaps it is time the judge considers freeing the remaining defendants on bail pending trial.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Update: According to the AP, a federal judge has scheduled jury selection to begin Oct. 10 for the trial of Cliven Bundy, two of his sons and four others — including two whose recent retrial ended in a hung jury on some charges.

 

Newspaper column: Interior’s new sage grouse protection efforts welcomed

What’s good for cattle is good for grouse. (USDA pix)

Earlier this month Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke ordered the implementation of recommendations from a team that reviewed the previous administration’s draconian land use restrictions under the guise of protecting greater sage grouse. The team — which included officials from Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Forest Service and representatives from the 11 affected states — called for lifting certain restrictions that impacted economic activity without actually affecting sage grouse populations.

Montana native Zinke’s 55-page order echoed criticisms that were included in various lawsuits brought by several states, including Nevada. Zinke’s order says the changes are not one-size-fits-all, the very words used by Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt a year ago about litigation he had filed to block the land use restrictions.

Back when he sued the federal government over its sage grouse land restriction, Laxalt stated, “As our latest brief again demonstrates, the Bureau of Land Management’s rushed, one-size-fits-all sage grouse plan not only violates multiple federal laws, but also the agency’s own regulations. The BLM blatantly disregarded the many Nevada experts and stakeholders, and failed to consider how its plan would impact Nevadans. This approach to regulation is as dismissive to our State as it is illegal, and I remain dedicated to protecting the interests of Nevada and ensuring that agencies follow the law and take the state’s concerns and interests into account.”

Shortly after Zinke announced the changes, Laxalt lauded the move, saying, “I am glad to see this progress on an issue important to so many Nevadans. I agree with Secretary Zinke that the federal government and Nevada can protect the sage-grouse and its habitat, while also ensuring that conservation efforts do not undermine job growth and local communities.”

Nevada’s lawsuit accused the various federal land agencies of violating the law and ignoring scientific evidence when it concocted a 341-page pronouncement in 2015 that 10 million acres of public land in 16 Western states — nearly a third of that in Nevada — would be taken out of consideration for future mining claims, as well as oil and gas drilling near breeding grounds and that there would be additional reviews on grazing permits. The plan envisioned restrictions on grazing, resource development, solar and wind energy, and public access to public land in Nevada. This was being done even though the government declined to list the sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act.

Specifics in Zinke’s order include recognizing that “proper livestock grazing is compatible with enhancing or maintaining Greater Sage-Grouse (GRSG) habitat” and orders incentives be used to encourage grazing practices that improve conditions conducive to grouse habitat.

While the previous administration failed to even consider predator control as a means of protecting grouse, the Interior Department order calls for research into both lethal and non-lethal predator control. In 1989, the Nevada Department of Wildlife planted 1,400 chicken eggs in 200 simulated grouse nests during the 15-day period when sage hens lay their eggs. All the eggs were destroyed by predators, mostly ravens.

Yet, the previous administration put on their all-species-must-be-protected blinders and entirely ignored predator control as a means of protecting the grouse population.

The order also recognizes the need to reduce the overpopulation of wild horses and burros that eat and trample sage grouse habitat, something else the previous administration was lax about.

It also discusses the need to fund fire fuel reduction and fighting invasive species.

It also anticipates flexibility to allow the development of both fluid and solid minerals.

It even calls for experimenting with captive breeding of grouse to enhance the population.

This move by the Interior Department should have a salutary impact on Nevada’s economy. Interior’s own draft environmental impact statement estimated that its previous sage grouse restrictions would reduce economic output in Nevada each year by $373.5 million, cost $11.3 million in lost state and local tax revenue and reduce employment by 739 jobs every year for the next 20 years.

As for all the doomsaying about grouse populations, according to a 2015 Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies survey, the population of greater sage grouse had grown by nearly two-thirds in the previous two years.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Newspaper column: Court ruling puts state water rights in jeopardy

Nevada is taking the lead in challenging a recent 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals opinion that has the potential to obliterate more than a century of state water rights law.

The office of Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt this past week filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court, in conjunction with nine other states, asking the court to hear the case on appeal.

The 9th Circuit ruling granted groundwater rights to the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, whose reservation is in California’s arid Coachella Valley, though the local water district had held those rights for years and sold water to the reservation and other communities. The court held that state water rights are preempted by federal reserved rights, implying that water under any federally controlled land could be wrested from existing water rights holders.

Agua Caliente reservation

“As the driest state in the nation, Nevada has a paramount interest in the rules governing the management and allocation of the scarce water resources within its borders,” the 19-page amicus brief notes. “Nevada has the highest percentage in the nation of land under federal ownership or control, with a large portion of that land subject to possible claims of federal reserved water rights.”

The other states signing onto the legal action are Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

Among other things the brief argues that under the Tenth Amendment states retain substantial sovereign powers with which Congress may not easily interfere. In fact, the Supreme Court itself has stated that if Congress attempts to preempt a traditional and essential power exercised by a state that “it must make its intention to do so ‘unmistakably clear in the language of the statute.’”

Laxalt was quoted in a press release as saying, “By filing this brief, my office encourages the Supreme Court to take the necessary steps to clarify the States’ groundwater rights and to ensure Nevada’s best interests are being protected from unnecessary and unwarranted federal interference. As I have consistently demonstrated throughout my tenure as Nevada’s attorney general, my office stands ready to defend our state from unlawful federal overreach regardless of the source.”

Compounding the problem created by the 9th Circuit water usurpation is the fact that in Nevada, as in other Western states, many of the groundwater aquifers are already fully appropriated and have been for nearly 100 years. Any new claim for water under federal land would result in an overallocation, possibly requiring the relinquishing of long-held water rights used by ranches, farms, manufacturing, mining and communities — in some cases depriving families of their livelihoods.

“Current rights holders may see their investment backed decisions evaporate,” the court document relates.

Another argument is that groundwater rights could not have been assumed to be part and parcel of any federal land holding since at the time of its acquisition the technology to economically access groundwater was virtually nonexistent.

But somehow the 9th Circuit judges managed to contort a 1908 Supreme Court ruling that barred the damming of a river that flowed through a Montana Indian reservation as also bestowing groundwater rights. The judges asked whether the water was “envisioned as necessary for the reservation’s purpose at the time the reservation was created,” and answered with a totally implausible affirmative.

The Agua Caliente case has already been wielded in federal court as an argument against Nevada’s longstanding practice of allocating groundwater through the state engineer’s office.

During a hearing a couple of weeks ago on lawsuits over the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s attempt to tap groundwater in valleys in White Pine, Lincoln and Nye counties, an attorney representing various Shosone tribes cited the 9th Circuit ruling as giving the reservations priority groundwater rights despite the state engineer’s granting of water rights to SNWA.

The states’ amicus brief challenging the presumptive federal water rights argument concludes: “Courts cannot simply presume that Congress considered, let alone intended, to displace the States’ traditional authority over groundwater when (1) not only is the enabling act creating the reservation silent about water rights, but also (2) it was not even feasible, much less contemplated, that groundwater would be used.”

Much is at stake in this case, especially here in Nevada, where the federal government already controls 85 percent of the land and also would control much of the water underneath that land if this ruling is not reversed.

The lives and livelihoods of thousands of Nevadans, especially rural Nevadans, could be in jeopardy.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Newspaper column: Rural groundwater grab gets federal court hearing

If whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting, this fight has gone on for 28 years and the combatants are still flailing madly.

In 1989 the agency that is now the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) filed paperwork with the state engineer to lay claim to 589,000 acre-feet of groundwater in central Nevada — primarily White Pine, Lincoln and Nye counties — that would be tapped with a 300-mile, $1.5 billion pipeline from near Ely to Las Vegas.

The litigation and hearings and debates began immediately. Since then the amount of water sought has been trimmed to 84,000 acre-feet while the price tag on the pipeline has grown to an estimated $15 billion.

Three years ago several counties and groups filed lawsuits in federal court seeking to block the water grab, claiming the federal land agencies had failed to properly evaluate the environmental damage and follow the law. The lawsuits claimed the Interior Department and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) violated the National Environmental Policy Act and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act in approving the groundwater project.

This past week in a Las Vegas courtroom federal Judge Andrew Gordon heard nearly two hours of oral arguments from both sides seeking summary judgment.

“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 original suit by the counties claimed.

Judge Gordon noted that in the three years since then the two sides have have filed thousands of pages of briefs.

Attorney Simeon Herskovits, representing the counties, the Great Basin Water Network and other parties, argued that the federal agencies had failed to consider the impact of the whole project on the environment and the aquifer, but had taken a tiered approach, looking at the impact of each well as it comes online. He noted the objective is for the recharge of the aquifer to equal the draw down by the SNWA wells, but he argued that is not possible.

Herskovits argued that the wells would drop the water table to the point that wetlands and springs would dry up and affect several endangered species that depend on them.

At times the arguments seemed to parallel those that have already taken place in state court: Is it even possible to predict the wells’ effects and mitigate those effects at some future point?

In 2013 state Senior Judge Robert Estes ruled that State Engineer Jason King had the authority to approve the transfer of water from Spring, Cave, Dry Lake and Delarmar valleys to Las Vegas, but had failed to establish objective criteria for just when mitigation — such as halting pumping — would have to be initiated.

But in this past week’s federal suit an attorney representing the BLM, Luther Hajek, noted the job of the BLM is to issue the permit for the pipeline across public lands, while it is up to the state engineer to decide if the water is available.

Judge Gordon questioned the attorney about the BLM’s duty to assess potential degradation and asked whether the BLM had buried that question in paperwork without really analyzing.

SNWA’s attorney, Hadassah Reimer, argued that the plaintiffs were second guessing Southern Nevada officials who had determined a need to diversify Clark County’s water portfolio, because it draws 90 percent of its water from a dwindling Lake Mead.

The state engineer has scheduled hearings for the end of September on the court-ordered review of mitigation standards. Judge Gordon said he will rule on the motions for summary judgment before then.

Buoying the plaintiffs’ arguments is a 2014 study by the U.S. Geological Survey.

Because of the magnitude of the project and the interconnected nature of groundwater basins in the region, there have been concerns that new pumping will threaten the wetlands and ranches that rely upon them, said Melissa Masbruch, USGS scientist and lead author of the study.

The study calculated all the current groundwater recharge from various sources, including precipitation, unconsumed irrigation and inflow from other aquifers and found that the valley groundwater receives about 175,000 acre-feet. But when all of the current outflow is added up — wells, springs, streams and outflow to other aquifers— it is almost precisely the same amount of water — equilibrium.

More wells would upset the balance.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Protesters oppose Clark County taking rural Nevada groundwater.