Dozens testify at Southern Nevada water hearing
RC Capital Bureau
Traveling from as far away as Utah, dozens of people turned out Friday to testify during the public’s chance to weigh in on Southern Nevada Water Authority’s application to pipe water from eastern Nevada to Las Vegas.
And the vast majority of those who did – including members of several Indian tribes – were opposed to the plan they say would leave their part of the state looking like the Mojave Desert.
State officials took testimony not only in Carson City and Las Vegas but by video-conference from Ely and Caliente.
Glennon Zelch, a member of the Pioche Town Board, said the pipeline tapping three eastern Nevada valleys would cause tremendous economic and environmental damage, lowering the water table as much as 200 feet. He said farmers and homeowners won’t be able to afford to drill that deep, forcing them to move.
Zelch told the hearing panel reviewing the application if they approve the pipeline, SNWA should be required to pay for all damages and adverse impacts that result.
Louis Benezet of Caliente said the water just isn’t there. He said the plan seems to be to wear down the opposition.
Kyle McFee, representing the Paiute tribe of southern Utah, said the impact would cross state lines to damage their environment as well. He said not just people but animals and plant life also would suffer.
Gavin Noyes, a consultant to the Goshute Tribe from Salt Lake City, said drying up the landscape would also cause air quality problems. He and others pointed to the dust problems created decades ago when Los Angeles Water and Power tapped the water in Owens Valley, draining Owens Lake.
“California already did a project like this and we can see how that turned out,” said Keith Pearson of Panaca. “This whole area will dry up. The schools will dry up and people will move away.”
“We’re not asking water for swimming pools, fountains or golf courses,” said Kathy Cole Hiatt, a member of an eastern Nevada ranching family. She said if the pipeline is approved, “we won’t even have water to drink.”
Keith Stever, Gilbert and several other speakers also rejected the SNWA claims that, if the pipeline does take more water than nature can recharge, they’ll stop pumping.
“One the pipeline is put in place and the water is going to Vegas, there’ll be no stopping it and when this is drawn down, they’ll extend it to Elko County and finish cleaning out this side of the state,” he said.
Craig Baker of Ely’s Big Springs Irrigation Co., said he doesn’t believe the pipeline would be legal because it would damage existing and vested water rights.
“Vested water rights can’t be impaired,” he said. “The applications should be denied. They would be counter to Nevada water law.”
Several speakers charged that Las Vegas was growing beyond the amount of water available rather than learning to live with what it has.
“This is a critical decision,” said Rick Spilsbury, a tribal spokesman from McGill. “We can choose to make water shortages in the future even worse or we can choose to learn to live within our means.”
“They are living in a desert,” said Jan Gilbert of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada. “They need to live within their means.”
Judy Treichel of Las Vegas said that city “has already outgrown our natural use.” She said SNWA’s argument that the pipeline water is needed as a back-up supply is a bad one.
“Just in case is not a beneficial use,” she said.
Assemblyman Joe Hogan, D-Las Vegas, said despite living in Las Vegas, he opposes the pipeline project.
“That’s not the way to solve a water problem,” he said. “It would be a disastrous blunder. The environmental damages are just unthinkable.”
He said Los Angeles Water and Power is paying about a billion dollars this year to try solve the dust problem caused by Owens Valley.
But not everyone was opposed. Anthony Rogers representing the Las Vegas bricklayer’s union said it would be a catastrophic event if the pipeline isn’t approved.
“The hotels won’t be able to flush their toilets.”
Virginia Valentine representing the Nevada Resort Association, said tourism and related businesses are the number one generator of jobs in Southern Nevada.
“A water shortage in this area would have a devastating effect on our economy,” she said.
Lobbyist and former state legislator Helen Foley, representing homebuilders and businesses as well as unions, said the water is “unused, unclaimed and unallocated.
“It’s vitally important we be able to claim some of this water,” she said.
The day of public testimony is part of what will be some six weeks of hearings into the SNWA application for permits to tap eastern Nevada’s underground aquifers.