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.


Newspaper column: ‘Fill Mead First’ and save water

The Glen Canyon Institute describes itself as dedicated to the restoration of Glen Canyon and the Colorado River to their natural states prior to the construction of Glen Canyon Dam and the filling of Lake Powell.

While the institute’s primary focus is on Arizona and Utah, one of its ideas for changes would have significant impact on Nevada, where the Las Vegas water agencies continue to press for access to groundwater from four valleys in rural Nevada, as recounted in this week’s newspaper column, available online at The Ely Times and the Elko Daily Free Press.

The institute has an acronym for it: FMF, which stands for Fill Mead First.

Lake Mead’s bathtub ring.

Their objective is to lower Lake Powell, thereby uncovering natural and cultural sites. This also would speed up the flow of the Colorado River and restore the ecology of the Grand Canyon. The 710-foot dam changes that ecology by stopping the river’s warm, silt-laden flow, instead releasing a colder, clearer flow.

But the ancillary benefit is that it could add as much as 300,000 acre-feet of water — which is equal to Nevada’s entire annual allotment from the Colorado River — to Lake Mead by cutting the water lost in Lake Powell due to evaporation and seepage into the banks of the lake.

The Glen Canyon Institute bases this on research by hydrologist Dr. Thomas Myers, who 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.

While the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s plan is to spend $15 billion to obtain 84,000 acre-feet of rural groundwater, the cost of filling Mead first is nil. The plan requires no new facilities to be built, and no changes in the laws or compacts regulating the river, just a change in bureaucratic policy.

A year ago the Bureau of Reclamation reported that by 2060 the demand for Colorado River water will exceed supply by 3.2 million acre-feet. One reason is that the river currently supplies water to 40 million people from Denver to San Diego, but that population is estimated to nearly double to 76.5 million by 2060.

The proposal to Fill Mead First is cheap, easily accomplished and entirely reversible if circumstances change.

Read the entire column at Ely of Elko sites.