Judge rejects Vegas water grab
December 11, 2013
A district judge ordered the recalculation of the amount of water in four eastern Nevada basins, which Las Vegas is seeking to pipe south.
On Tuesday, White Pine County Senior District Judge Robert E. Estes ordered Nevada State Engineer Jason King to add to Utah counties to a mitigation plan, and recalculate the water available from Spring Valley, Cave Valley, Dry Lake and Delamar Valley.
Las Vegas has been seeking to obtain water rights to the four valleys since 1989 when the water district first applied to the state engineer for them.
Protests have been ongoing since July 1989, and the first hearings on the applications weren't held until 2006.
In 2011, King approved the pumping of 61,127 acre feet annually from Spring Valley south. Cave Valley was approved for 5,235 acre feet a year, Dry Lake Valley was approved for 11,584 acre feet and Delamar Valley was approved for 6,042 acre feet in what the judge called the largest water appropriation in Nevada history. The four water basins account for 20,688 square miles, and may be the largest interbasin transfer of water in U.S. history, Estes said.
Estes' ruling said that the level of water being taken out of Spring Valley would exceed the amount of recharge, essentially mining the aquifer.
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"The engineer's finding that equilibrium in Spring Valley water basin 'will take a long time' was not based on substantial or reliable evidence and is incorrect," Estes wrote. "Indeed, by his own statements — and evidence — equilibrium will never be reached."
Estes found that the engineer's calculations showed equilibrium will never be reached.
Steve Erickson, Utah Coordinator for the Great Basin Water Network, a lead plaintiff in the case, called the ruling "a huge victory for the families and communities of these rural valleys in Nevada and Utah, and a vindication of our collective efforts to resist a massively misguided and destructive project."
"This ruling affirms our long-held positions that groundwater withdrawals of this huge scale are not sustainable and can't be effectively managed or mitigated," Erickson said.
In a statement, the water authority said they were pleased that the court did not disturb the bulk of the State Engineer's findings.
"The court also affirmed that the quantity of water determined by the State Engineer is available for appropriation in Spring Valley," the statement said.
The court has asked the State Engineer to gather additional data before rights are granted and water is developed, and SNWA is confident that this can be done.
SNWA will complete an evaluation of its legal positions regarding the order in the coming weeks.