State water engineer Jason King ruled Aug. 17 that water applications to take water from rural areas west of the Utah-Nevada state line have been cancelled.
In making the announcement, King said the ruling was based on studies to calculate if there is enough water to supply a 300-mile, multibillion-dollar pipeline to pump groundwater to the Las Vegas Valley.
The Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) is expected to appeal.
Lincoln County Water District Manager Wade Poulsen said this came about from the remand order Judge Robert Estes gave in 2013, effectively stripping the SNWA of the water it needs to fill its pipeline by sending the matter back to the state engineer for further review.
As reported in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Estes directed King “to recalculate and likely reduce how much water the authority can safely be allowed to pump, in part to ensure that the water table in the largest of the basins would reach equilibrium within a reasonable amount of time.”
Poulsen commented to the Record, “For those in Lincoln County who opposed the pipeline, I think it’s a good thing. But I don’t think it resolves the whole issue. It will probably now go to the courts and will be tied up for many more years. As long as it’s in courts, though, they can’t build the pipeline.”
County Commission board member Kevin Phillips, who has long opposed the pipeline project, said he was pleased because it puts a hold on jeopardizing all the rest of rural eastern Nevada.
“Kudos to the water engineer,” Phillips said.
The Review-Journal article stated King made it clear “that his hand was forced by a court order he doesn’t agree with, and he left the door open for future approval of the controversial pipeline project.”
In a 111-page order, King said, “Although the state engineer believes there is water to appropriate in the four subject groundwater basins, he is precluded from doing so as a result of the scope of those remand issues ordered by the court.”
Simeon Herskovits, a longtime New Mexico-based lawyer for opponents of the pipeline, commented in the article, “Now we finally have the state engineer doing what the courts say he must do under the law.”
Meanwhile, Abigail Johnson, of the Great Basin Water Network in Baker, Nevada, said in a written statement that the pipeline project is “dead in the water.”
Since 1989, Las Vegas water officials have been pushing plans to tap groundwater up to 300 miles away as a backup supply for a growing community that gets 90 percent of its drinking water from the Colorado River.
The Review Journal article said, “The idea has drawn fierce opposition in Nevada and Utah from rural residents, ranchers, American Indian tribes, conservationists, outdoor enthusiasts, and even the Mormon Church, which operates a large cattle ranch in one of the White Pine County aquifers targeted by the authority.”
SNWA is counting on the pipeline to supply enough water for at least 170,000 homes in the valley, yet admits it probably won’t be needed until 2033.
The RJ noted that, “In 2012, King granted the authority permission to pump up to 84,000 acre-feet a year from four rural valleys in Lincoln and White Pine counties.”
Herskovits said it’s easy to guess what will happen when SNWA files the appeals, but impossible to predict much beyond that.
“We all know we’re headed back to district court and inevitably the state supreme court,” he told the R-J. “I don’t know what this says about how this will all turn out in the end. We’ll see.”