SPARKS – Dozens of Washoe County residents turned out at Sparks High School Thursday during the last of nine Bureau of Land Management (BLM) open house sessions to protest a proposed pipeline that would ship water from rural northeastern Nevada to Las Vegas, citing the loss of environmental, economic and cultural resources.
The $3.5 billion, 306-mile long pipeline was first proposed more than 20 years ago, and the BLM released its Environment Impact Statement (EIS) earlier this year based on a pipeline proposal submitted by the Southern Nevada Water Authority.
“The BLM’s own documents predict dire consequences,” said Abby Johnson, who works with the Great Basin Water Network (GBWN), a coalition of ranchers, farmers, American Indian tribes, sportsmen, environmental organizations, local governments, businesses, scientists and rural residents.
According to the GBWN, those consequences include irrecoverable drops in the groundwater table, the loss of 112 streams, 305 springs and more than 190,000 acres of wildlife habitat, and 34,000 tons of windblown dust emitted annually, affecting air quality.
Moreover, pumping 125,000 acre-feet of water from the Cave, Delamar, Dry Lake and Spring valleys in White Pine and Lincoln counties could forever alter the land.
More than 12,000 acres of land would be cleared during the 11-year construction period, which opponents said could lead to more wildfires.
“Eastern Nevada’s rural economy, as fragile as its desert ecology, will also likely collapse,” said Bob Fulkerson, executive director with the left-leaning Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada.
In protesting the pipeline, opponents called to mind the history of Owens Valley, a once water-rich region in California that “today is a moonscape, permanently destroyed by water mining,” said Ramona Morrison, member of the Nevada Board of Agriculture.
Though the proposed pipeline would create an estimated 900 jobs, opponents said money would be better spent making Las Vegas more sustainable through public infrastructure and retrofitting projects.
Proponents have said the pipeline’s costs will be met by expanding the number of water hook-ups, but Fulkerson believes current residents of Clark County will wind up paying high water rates to fund the pipeline.
“Nevada can’t afford the water grab,” Fulkerson said. “Las Vegas is the second-most tax regressive city in the country.”
Perhaps the most compelling critique of the pipeline came from Norm Harry, former chairman of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe.
“It’s still an attack on our home,” he said.
The public comment period for the proposed pipeline ends Oct. 11 and BLM officials are expected to make a decision sometime next spring.