A lawsuit was filed in mid-February in the U.S. District Court in Las Vegas in an effort to overturn a decision by the Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Land Management to allow a Southern Nevada Water Authority project to proceed and issue a right-of-way for a nearly 265-mile long pipeline to take billions of gallons of water from rural areas of eastern Nevada and convey it to Las Vegas.
At the same time, a parallel case involving a state judge’s decision blocking the project is on appeal to the Nevada Supreme Court.
The suit was brought by a broad coalition of citizen’s groups, Native American Tribes and local government entities.
The Great Basin Water Network, along with White Pine County, the Goshute and Shoshone Tribes and their allies, requested that the Federal District Court of Nevada “void the validity of the BLM’s Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision,” and, “suspend and enjoin any operation on the right-of-way pending full compliance with federal environmental laws and trust obligations to the Tribal plaintiffs.”
The plaintiffs claim the Record of Decision given in Dec. 2012, failed to take a “hard look” at the impacts of the project, failed to consider reasonable alternatives, failed to prevent unnecessary or undue environmental degradation, and failed to properly consult with and evaluate and mitigate impacts to Tribal resources.
The Swamp Cedars Massacre Site in White Pine’s Spring Valley is an example of this failure, noted Madeline Greymountain, chairwoman of the Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation. She said, “It is the location of three different massacres of our Indian ancestors, and the largest recorded massacre of Indian people by the United States government in all of U.S. history. Sadly, SNWA aims to destroy this site completely, calling their destructive wake ‘succession.’“
In Spring Valley, the swamp cedar trees stand in somber silence. No more than a mile or so long, they are a narrow strip of sentries marking the place where, the Goshutes say, more than 300 men, women and children belonging to the Goshute and Shoshone tribes were massacred by the U.S. Cavalry in 1863. Columnist Thomas Mitchell wrote a swamp cedar tree grew where each of the Indian bodies fell, and today, the tribe fears a water table decline would harm the trees. He added, “the Goshutes say that when this information was presented at a hearing an SNWA attorney compared tribal religious beliefs to a child’s belief in the ‘boogey man.’”
Another massacre of the tribe occurred by the Cavalry in 1897.
Abby Johnson, president of the Great Basin Water Network said the pipeline project would be “the biggest groundwater pumping project ever built in the United States and it would have devastating hydrological, biological, and socioeconomic impacts across vast areas of eastern Nevada and western Utah.”
Other members involved in the suit include the Sierra Club, Central Nevada Regional Water Authority, Utah Audubon Council, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, and Salt Lake City League of Women Voters.
Simeon Herskovits, of Advocates for Community and Environment, the attorney for the groups, said, “All the scientific modeling, including SNWA’s own model, shows that the proposed groundwater pumping will have devastating effects on both existing water rights and sensitive environmental resources throughout a broad region encompassing a number of hydrologically connected valleys. The proposed mitigation plan relied on by the BLM for protection of federal resources is woefully vague and inadequate and has little to no hope of success.”
“BLM’s decision was inconsistent with numerous environmental laws and federal policies, with their trust obligation to Native American Tribes, and with their own Resource Management Plan for the Ely District. Therefore, the BLM’s EIS should be invalidated by the Court,” he said.
Rob Mrowka of Great Basin Water Network, said the suit has not been heard yet in federal court and he did not know when it might be.