Thursday, December 6, 2007


The U.S. Department of Agriculture, following a request from Gov. Gibbons, declared rural Nevada a "disaster area" because of crushing drought. This is the same area targeted for defoliation by the developers and their lackeys at the Southern Nevada Water Authority.
Which reminds us of a couple of things: Despite many millions the SNWA has spent trying to cleanse East Central Nevada of farmers and ranchers, agriculture is still important in this state. And, golly, it just doesn't seem like there's a lot of that "unused, renewable" water that Mrs. Mulroy keeps talking about on the teevees.
Finally, the disaster declaration raises the question of how the federal and state authorities would respond once the inevitable environmental consequences of the proposed Water Grab start to bite. Can you declare a disaster based on governmental policy?
Well, actually, I guess you can. Certainly our friends in New Orleans have some experience with that.

December 5, 2007


Nevada's request for a Secretarial Disaster Designation from the U.S. Department of Agriculture has been granted for the entire state of Nevada.
On Oct. 16, Gov. Jim Gibbons and the Nevada State Department of Agriculture sent a letter to Acting Secretary for the USDA Charles F.Conner, requesting federal assistance for the State of Nevada due to losses caused by drought and wildfires.
"This year's drought resulted in the loss of close to 1 million acres of grazing land for our ranching communities," said Gibbons in a press release today. "I am pleased that the USDA recognized the devastating impact that this year's drought and wildfires had on so many of Nevada's rural economies."

(Thanks to JB for the heads-up.)

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Bouphonia: Arid Wastelands

Bouphonia: Arid Wastelands

Great blog post!

Thanks to my friend Steve Rypka for passing along this well-written analysis of the recent NYTimes story on growth, the sale of public lands and the voracious appetite of the Southern Nevada Water Authority to destroy the Great Basin.

"In other words, they’re selling land that belongs to all Americans in order to support unwise local development, the primary effect of which will be to increase Las Vegas’s already staggering demand for “cheap” regional water. To suggest that they have no right to do this is to reveal yourself as a collectivist of the worst sort…the type of person, in other words, who doesn’t understand the dignity and sense of self-worth that come with being self-reliant. "

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Hell no, we won't glow

My friend Judy Treichel is featured in a pair of stories from my former colleague at the Las Vegas Sun, Lisa Mascaro. Judy has been one of the valiant warriors waging a peaceful and effective fight against the government-industrial effort to stick 160 million pounds of highly radioactive waste in our community’s backyard.
Judy, the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada (which I work for), the Sierra Club and other organizations of progressives, conservationists and people who give a damn are looking at two meetings this week that have big implications for the Yucca Mountain dump battle. The first meeting, Monday night at Cashman, will be part of the environmental review of the almost comically foolish plans to truck the lethal waste through Central Nevada. The second, Wednesday morning, is a step in the deliberately arcane and complex process of approving the license to stick the waste here. For more information on both meetings, the Nevada Conservation League has details here.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Sunset over the Walking Box Ranch outside Searchlight

Sometimes I'm a little depressed about the whole Nevada desert experience, what with cut-throat developers and manical agency staffers and the politics of class and environmental destruction, etc. But every so often we run into something that kinda reminds you that there is some really, really special stuff out there, too.


So the fall watering schedules for this sort of COMPLETELY UNNECESSARY WASTED GREEN SPACE only permit one day a week watering. Let's just see how many days this apartment complex in Green Valley actually waters its lawns...

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Desert Beacon on Water Wars

Our Blue Sage friends weighed in on SNWA's latest example holding up the agency's long and ugly track record of going back on its public promises - this time, its announcement that it will accelerate destruction of the Great Basin by grabbing about 70 percent more water than the earlier threats.

Water Wars: Vegas wants a bigger slurp

The Southern Nevada Water Authority has announced a plan that would drain 200,000 acre feet of groundwater per year from wells in Clark, Lincoln, and White Pine counties. [LVRJ] Earlier plans called for a 125,000 acre feet capacity pipeline. And, what goes out isn’t likely to be “re-charged.”

Thursday, October 25, 2007

"Sustainability" Re-defined

I try to attend events such as the Sustainability Conference yesterday at UNLV because I care about sustainability and stuff, but when I learned that it was co-sponsored and organized by the Southern Nevada Water Authority, I had second thoughts. I've had to listen to Pat Mulroy, water czarina, on a number of occasions recently and if I had to hear her ONE MORE TIME tell us that global warming is forcing us to defoliate the Great Basin and that the parasitical plants and animals up there deserve what they get, my head would explode.
So I had a friend who is also a pesky environmentalist attend in my stead and take the rhetorical bullet.

The idea that a sustainability discussion would occur in Las Vegas at UNLV was great news to me and my friends. We looked forward to a lively conversation about energy efficiency and water conservation. We were absolutely giddy about the prospect of smart growth and urban re-development being the topic of the day. The opening remarks were given to a crowd of about 200 or so, many of us arriving early to connect with other "sustainable-minded" attendees.

The various municipal and agency staff were there, as well as a fair number from the academic community (go figure), but there were also others, including Mayor Oscar Goodman. He is not what most would consider a spokesperson for sustainable practices, though he did manage to make the audience laugh by poking fun at his mob background being full of "green in paper bags."

The keynote address was delivered by Dr. Arthur Nelson, an "expert" on urban affairs and planning from Virginia. He really blew us away with his numbers: America is growing faster than every country in the world other than India & Pakistan. Las Vegas will have 3.4 million people living in the valley by 2030. That in the next 20 years we will have added 450,000 new homes and rebuild 150,000 additional homes in the valley.

Wait a minute - Is this the keynote address for a Sustainability Conference or a Chamber of Commerce event? What gives with the numbers? Are we to believe that we are growing so fast that there is nothing we can do, so we must just accept it and figure out how do it without our entire community collapsing?

Apparently Dr. Nelson thinks so, and he even had some pretty slides of "green building" to support his point, sort of. And by the way, he believes we will have to keep building coal plants to meet our energy needs.

I should mention at this point that any thoughts of sustainability quickly receded in my mind, leaving me to ask, what am I doing at this conference? Did someone make a mistake when booking Dr. Nelson? Did he bring the wrong presentation by mistake?

Lunch could not have come any sooner. I spoke with my colleagues and friends about the remarks we had heard earlier and wondered aloud if we were suppose to just accept the figures. Perhaps I could go speak with Dr. Nelson myself, ask him a few questions that were not raised during the Q&A. Maybe I would be relieved to hear that his presentation was meant to challenge us, to make us demand the political will that would be needed from our elected officials to tackle these issues. But alas, I did not pursue him. I am not that forward of a person, and besides, I should feel more enriched after his presentation, right?

I would like to say the afternoon was full of experts and scholars speaking on the issues of sustainable growth and energy, the likes of which would bring real focus to our community's problems. I wish I could tell you that the Q&A was lively and robust, that the audience asked tough questions and were given real answers - to be fair, there were some excellent points raised by the academics on the panel, but they were really overshadowed by the presence of a few individuals not exactly viewed as "pillars of sustainability" in our community.

When asked by the moderator to explain what his definition of sustainability was, Michael Yackira, CEO of Sierra Pacific Resources (YES, HE WAS A PANELIST) went directly to the playbook: "...1.2 million customers... keep our costs low... cfl's... blah blah blah.... renewable energy blah blah blah... more conventional forms of power production..."

WHAT DID HE JUST SAY? The man said it, on the ENVIRONMENTAL PANEL at the SUSTAINABILITY CONFERENCE. Indeed friends, we are going to need coal to be sustainable. This was perfect, the icing on my cake today, the perfect response to such an easy question... Moderator: "What is your definition of sustainability?" Yackira: "Coal."

I wish I could tell you that the audience was able to respond to Yackira and that he fielded tough questions from myself and others. That we cornered him and he gave in, telling us that the Governor was making him do it to satisfy his cronies in Washington that need a victory for coal in Harry Reid's back yard. But the time ran out after each of the EIGHT panelists had their say.

Again, to be fair, some of the remarks were excellent, insightful, and worth the price of admission... but none could really stand up to Mr. Yackira's statement.

So needless to say, I can't wait until next year. Maybe they'll have Dick Cheney talk about renewable energy.

Richardson on Mulroy

Southern Nevada Water Authority czar Pat Mulroy was cavorting with Sen. Hillary Clinton recently at the Desert Springs Museum of Extinct Species, but she doesn’t carry a lot of weight with all the candidates. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson had a mild put down on Jon Ralston’s Face to Face this week.

"There's a lot of negativism," Richardson told Ralston about Mulroy's refusal to consider alternatives to defoliating the Great Basin. "Even that person that handles water. It's like they've given up. That's wrong."

Clickity-click here: Richardson on Mulroy

Global Warming Benefits

Not only is global warming good for Pat Mulroy and the nuclear power industry shills, who both calculatingly use the issue to gin up support for their respective agendas to destroy the environment, but contrary to anyone else in the world, the White House says it will make people healthier.

In response to the obvious squelching of the Centers for Disease Prevention's boss's report on the negative health effects of global warming - among them, widespread, muderous drought, killer wildfires and the spread of tropical diseases to places like Portland, Maine - White House flakette Dana Perino suggests it will no longer be necessary to wear jackets in the winter. From the White House transcript:

Pesky Reporter: And one more. You mentioned that there are health benefits to climate change. Could you describe some of those?
MS. PERINO: Sure. In some cases, there are - look, this is an issue where I'm sure lots of people would love to ridicule me when I say this, but it is true that many people die from cold-related deaths every winter. And there are studies that say that climate change in certain areas of the world would help those individuals.

Of course, here in Las Vegas it might be fair to point out that people die from heat-related deaths every summer. And at least five people have died in the catastrophic California wildfires that scientists believe are at least partially attributed to global warming.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Enemy is Plants

Southern Nevada Water Authority Czarina Pat Mulroy has launched her new ad campaign on television airwaves, a campaign so purely bull twaddle that it is awesome in its chutzpah.

Mulroy thanks Southern Nevada’s residents for maintaining the highest per-capita water use level of any urban region of the Southwest. Then she brags that the key to overcoming drought is to grab the “unused” water from rural Nevada.

This word, “unused,” has become a big mantra recently. (R&R Partners apparently has done some polling.) Mulroy used it four times at the recent Senate Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests hearing (dog and pony show) in Las Vegas.

If the water is unused, why, then certainly is should be put to some sort of use! Of course, the water is being used by those pesky plants and animals that, you know, actually live up there. The whole sad, destructive Water Authority plan is to take the water from plants and give it to the casinos and homebuilders.

Mulroy seems to view Nevada’s plants and animals, including a couple of dozen animals and plants that already are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act and many dozens more that should be, as parasites, threatening the manifest destiny as decreed by developers and neighborhood-casino companies.

Fortunately, those people who actually elect Mulroy’s bosses don’t share those sentiments. People who live in and around Las Vegas are sick to death of the “growth at any cost” scenario. Many are still confused about what, if anything, they can do to stop the urban growth that is destroying their quality of life. They hear Mulroy on the news disparaging conservation while her agencies seem to suggest that it’s a good idea.

It’s up to all of us to let the Water Authority and the elected politicos know that not only do we think that there are alternatives, we’re tired of letting the developers dominate the public policy discussions, on television or anywhere else.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

New Report Rips Water Grab

Here is the new dynamite from the Defenders of Wildlife and the Great Basin Water Network. I passed these reports out at the Senate Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests hearing today in Las Vegas that featured SNWA bossista Pat Mulroy - in fact, I gave one of these reports to Pat herself! (She didn't seem very happy.)

One of the many telling passages: For every $19 the Southern Nevada Water Authority spends on conservation, the agency spends $103 trying to defoliate the Great Basin. Defenders' report.

The report includes extensive analysis of Jim Deacon's research showing widespread environmental impacts from the Water Grab. It is a powerful indictment of the grow-at-any-costs mentality down here in Neon City.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

NBC's Take on Water Wars

Here's what NBC Nightly News did on the Water Grab: NBC News feature on Water Wars. I apologize for having to shout over the Bellagio fountain and the thing with my eyebrow.

Yes, We Can

Some of you folks might have caught another virtuoso performance by Water Czarina Pat Mulroy on NBC Nightly News Tuesday night. She insisted, as she has consistently, that conservation would not solve Las Vegas' water woes.
Well, Pat is also a huge champion for accelerated construction of tract homes and slot machines, and wants to cram millions more people into the Las Vegas Valley. Water is the lubricant that would help slide those millions in, and she's happy to defoliate the Great Basin if that's what it takes to bring the water here.

But in fact, conservation can work. As there is with any change in public policy, there is a political cost, and I suspect that's what the Water Authority and its political leadership wants to avoid.
(Full disclosure: I am a member of the Las Vegas Valley Water District's advisory committee considering rate changes, and I have been very vocal in pushing for the most aggressive pricing structure possible to reward conservation and discourage heavy water use. Not everyone on the committee agrees with me, and a few committee appointees roll their eyes when I talk about the importance of conservation.)
But can it work? Sure. Albuquerque, New Mexico, is among the cities of the Southwest that instituted conservation measures, most significantly dramatic increases in the cost of water for the heaviest consumers - a classic "tiered" water rate structure.
In 1989, Albuquerque used 279 gallons per person, per day. By 2003, the city had trimmed that number to 193 gallons, and the number continues to fall. Residential use, differentiated from the overall numbers, is even better - it is at 135 gallons per day.

Las Vegas' overall per capita number is 265, and the residential number, as of 2001, was 230. In some cities, the top rate caps out at more than $10 per 1,000 gallons. Ours is at $3.50. Clearly we can charge more for those who insist on using huge amounts of water, while rewarding those who are relatively frugal with frozen or even reduced rates.
Water Authority officials insist that you cannot compare the per capita numbers from various cities because environmental conditions are so different. I don't fully accept that, but let's take their argument on face value. The same officials say that what you can do is use the numbers as an indicator of progress.
What we have seen, then, is truly significant progress by cities that have insituted strong conservation measures. We can do that in Las Vegas as well.
The benefits would include eliminating the necessity of the Water Grab, providing a cushion for responsible growth, and bringing our urban existence into some sort of harmony with our environment. The costs would be the loss of those vast swathes of emerald green turf, watered at all hours of the day even in the sweltering heat of mid-summer, that "enhance" our suburban roads.
Can it be done? Sure. What remains to be seen is if we have the will.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Price You Pay...

The City of Henderson watering asphalt in early August, mid-day, 107 degrees out.

Water is about as important as air, especially in Las Vegas, but it is a little more expensive. Not much more, not compared to what people are paying in, say, Detroit or Seattle or Tucson or Albuquerque or any other part of the country where the commodity is treated as the precious substance it is, but it still costs.
A number of analysts have suggested, in fact, that one reason why Las Vegas' water users tend to lead the Southwest, indeed the nation, in gallons-per-day use is that the wet stuff is cheap. Very cheap. That has helped us put turf and swimming pools all over the valley, but the drought and a cap on what we can take from the Colorado River means the glory days (stupid days?) are over.
The primary strategy of the Southern Nevada Water Authority to stave off disaster has been to plan the defoliation of the Great Basin, a plan that has caused a fair degree of consternation among those folks who live in the Great Basin. Also, among anyone who actually gives a damn about the environmental future of this country. Or, selfishly, lives downwind of what would be toxic dust storms emanating from the newly created desert on thousands of miles around East Central Nevada.
The alternative pushed by the silly eco-terrorist community has been to look at the use patterns of Las Vegans and suggest you could save as much water from conservation in this city and suburbs as you could from the Water Grab. Such perspectives are anathema to the Captains of Industry and Government who have run this city so well, if occasionally criminally, in the past, but those Captains have responded with various conservation measures, some more successful than others.
One of the potentially most effective, however, has a long way to go. But perhaps it is starting.
The Las Vegas Valley Water District (aka SNWA) has a committee meeting on the issue of water rates, and specifically issues of equity, financial stability, and most important, conservation. (I am on the committee, much to the unhappiness of some of those afore-mentioned Captains.)There has been very little public attention to this committee.
I think some of the discussion has been eye-opening. At least one member is arguing for a flat rate structure, which would actually undermine the existing, if awfully anemic, "tiered" structure that encourages (again, anemically) conservation. But there is a lot of discussion that is going to affect people's wallets, pocketbooks and back yards.
I, being an environmental fanatic, have suggested that since the West is in the worst drought in recorded history, and since I'm doing all I can to muck up SNWA's Water Grab, it juuuust might be a good idea to try to live within some sort of less wasteful water budget.
Crazy talk, I know.
Things on the Rates Citizens Advisory Committee are going to get interesting ("interesting" within the context of really, really boring power point presentations showing various rate-structure financials and water pipe sizes) over the next few weeks. There are meetings scheduled Oct. 3 and Oct. 17.
The meetings are from 4 to 6 p.m. and they are at 1001 S. Valley View, on the corner of Valley View and Charleston, in the conference room of the Water District offices.
Come on down and make your voice heard.
This is one issue that hits 70 percent of the water users in our community directly and affects 100 percent, even those outside the service district, because whatever comes from Clark County and Las Vegas will be mirrored in the suburbs.
The issue may be dry (heh, heh) but it is important.

Monday, September 10, 2007

One More Warning

The Spring Valley of East-Central Nevada - Ground Zero for the Water Grab
Dr. Jim Deacon of the University of Nevada-Las Vegas is one of the world's foremost experts on desert ecologies. He has made enormous impacts on the field. Now, he has published what I believe will be a landmark study on the impact of the Southern Nevada Water Authority's Water Grab on the fragile environment of the Great Basin. This was published in the scientific journal BioScience, and it was reviewed by Dr. Deacon's peers in the scientific community before publishing.
This adds to the growing volume of scientific exploration of the impacts of this disastrous plan to trade the environment of the Great Basin for more slots and tract housing in Las Vegas. Those who ignore the warnings from our country's great scientists have always paid a harsh price. I hope we do not join them. Previous studies include a report from the United Nations Environmental Programme that warns of widespread desertification from the Water Grab; a study by the Utah Geological Survey that warns of groundwater levels falling by 100 feet or more, far deeper than the root structures of the vegetation in the region; and a study by the U.S. Geological Survey that warns of damage to the crown jewel of the region, the Great Basin National Park.
For more information on Jim's important contribution, go here:

Monday, July 23, 2007


Perhaps the worst outcome from the Southern Nevada Water Authority's publicly financed lobbying for unchecked growth in Las Vegas is that they will succeed. The agency's efforts to dry up rural Nevada to support more slots and tract housing could bring millions more to the desert. But the effort practically defines the word "unsustainable." What happens when the "fossil" water of the rural aquifers dries up? The threat of an urban apocolypse looms.
While locally such scenarios are dismissed by the developers and their enablers in the water agencies, that isn't true internationally. The United Nations Environmental Programme, among others, have warned of the environmental damage that will occur if the SNWA plan continues. A recent story in Canada's Toronto Star made similar warnings, while suggesting, logically, that development might be better located in those areas of the world that still have abundant natural resources:

And as the Southwest and parts of the Southeast grapple with historic drought, water supply depletion – earlier this year, Lake Okeechobee in Florida, a primary water source for the Everglades, caught fire – and the creeping sense that, with climate change, things can only get worse, a new reality is dawning: that logic, finally, will have a larger role to play in human migratory dynamics, continent-wide. With it come not just doomsday scenarios, but for certain urban centres left for dead in the post-industrial quagmire, a chance at new life.
"Sticking a straw in the Great Lakes is not a solution to Phoenix's water problems," says Robert Shibley, director of the Urban Design Project at the State University of New York at Buffalo. "Maybe it's time to really think about what constitutes need and stop spending money to build carrying capacity in places that don't have it by nature, and start investing in places that do."
...."You're going to have 150 million people living in at least seven of the major regions that don't have water, don't have carrying capacity, can't feed themselves," Shibley says. "It's an ecological disaster waiting to happen." ...
Some have already taken notice. Last year, The Economist ranked Cleveland the most liveable city in America (26th in the world) based on five categories: stability, health care, culture and environment, education and infrastructure. Among the booming cities of the Southwest, only Los Angeles and Houston cracked the top 50. Phoenix didn't make the list, falling behind Nairobi, Algiers and Phnomh Penh among the world's top 126 urban centres.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Billions and Billions

I dragged my tired old bones down to the Southern Nevada Water Authority board meeting Thursday morning on the orders of my friend and boss, Bob Fulkerson, PLAN's honcho. Who's in Paris or something having the time of his life. Bob wants me to say something at the SNWA board meeting, a convocation usually packed with SNWA staffers, contractors, developers and the politicos whom they love to love with generous campaign contributions.
Not too many people actually go down there because there's rarely any debate over the well-greased agenda that gets presented, which is unfortunate, because, well, it's our money and lifestyles that are getting carved up. The biggest turkey of all is the notorious Groundwater Development Project, commonly known as the Water Grab.
I thought about what I could say. I could say that the Water Grab is the most awesomely destructive and ill-conceived project since the Las Vegas Monorail, but that's probably not fair to the monorail guys since the Water Grab is a far more ambitious assault on sane public policy. I could point out that servicing the greed-fueled ambitions of developers and contractors seems to get the elected folks of the Las Vegas Valley in hot water (ha!), including extended stays in federal prison. But to be fair, not every elected official in the history of Southern Nevada has been convicted and hauled off to federal prison and it would be unfair to judge them all by, say, a majority of the Clark County Commission, circa 2000.
So I fell back on an old standby - the money thing. Here's what's weird about the Water Grab. No one seems to know how much it's going to cost. You'd think a huge agency with billions to play with, that regularly wins awards for its handling of those billions of dollars, that plays a critical role in providing our community with an essential resource would know what it's going to cost to defoliate central Nevada to fuel more slots and tract housing down here.
I pointed out to the seven SNWA board members that news reports sourced to SNWA staff seemed all over the place. Some put the dollar figure up in the $4 billion or $5 billion range. In one recent radio show, spokesman Scott Huntley put the number at $3.6 billion, and you'd think that would be a sorta official number, but apparently not. The local dead tree of record and numerous other media keep throwing out the 20-year-old estimate of $2 billion, which was always discredited by outside analysts and seemingly by the SNWA itself, but strangely, the agency stays mum when the number is regurgitated.
So I asked for a public figure. Pick one, but just give us the estimate. In contemporary dollars, not from the last century.
New board chairwoman and North Las Vegas Councilwoman for Life Shari Buck said a staff person would get back to me. I pointed out that would not be the kind of "public" discussion that I had hoped for. Buck STERNLY informed me that a staff person would talk to me after the meeting was concluded. No public discussion of such trivialities of how many billions would be spent destroying the environment on her watch!
Anyhoo, SNWA Deputy General Managers Dick Wimmer, the money guy, and Kay Brothers, the engineering boss, (who are both very nice people, btw) kinda sighed and did talk to me after the meeting. But I don't have a number for you.
"It's a moving target," Wimmer told me. Costs change. Inflation takes a toll on previous estimates. It's definitely not the same project as was envisioned (to nearly universal scorn) two decades ago.
OK. Let's take all that into consideration. Surely the SNWA has some guess, in contemporary dollars, of what the most massive groundwater diversion in the history of the West is going to cost?
Well, apparently not, at least for now. But there is reason to hope. Wimmer said that sometime in the near future, SNWA hopes to have an estimate that the staff can share with the public who are paying for the Water Grab. He's promised to let the public know when that happens.

Friday, July 6, 2007

I Know Where the Water Goes

This video on You Tube (via Nevada Today) speaks volumes to the mindset of the Southwestern developers who are so cozy with the Southern Nevada Water Authority. I think there is an added touch of irony to the fact that Pulte Homes is using a water truck to disrupt a legal demonstration (following a bullshit threat from a Pulte stooge).
Pulte is huge in Phoenix, where this was recorded, and Nevada, where the developer is in bed with the politicos (unindicted and otherwise).
I guess that's why the SNWA wants to defoliate Central Nevada: So the agency can provide water for tract housing and the water cannons to attack union workers.
Thanks, Nevada Today!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

NPR also takes a hard look

National Public Radio also weighs in on the Water Grab, with an excellent look at the issue from the rural perspective.
It's interesting to hear Water Czarina Pat Mulroy once again characterizing the lives and livelihoods of rural folks as irrelevent compared to the need for more slot machines and tract housing in Las Vegas. That's been a huge part of her agency's message all along, of course: Sure there might be some people and environment ruined, but it's worth it!
Here's the link to the NPR story:

Utah Covers Actual Water News

While Las Vegas media are lauding the success of the SNWA's $250 million public relations campaign (shiny! flashing! lights!), some Great Basin outlets are instead taking a look at what the agency actually plans to do - which is to destroy the environment in an area the size of Connecticut in the name of protecting profits for real estate developers.
Joe Bauman of the Desert News has over the years done an excellent job of covering the issues involved with the agency's plans to defoliate Central Nevada and Western Utah. This is his latest:,1249,665192814,00.html
Bauman details the fact that a recent draft study by the U.S. Geological Survey confirms what the Utah Geological Survey said years ago, and that is that SNWA's wells will drop the water table 50 to 100 feet, and impacts could be felt far from the well sites. That means vegetation with relatively shallow root systems will die, and with it wildlife that depends on that vegetation; springs and desert springs will dry up, and with it the land and aquatic animal life that comes with those precious desert water sources.
And - SNWA Water Grab funding sources might want to take a note of this - that means that rare and potentially federally protected species will be affected, and that could mean lengthy court battles. Of course, all along SNWA has claimed that the federal government would step in to stop any "significant" damage to the environment from their scheme, while simultaneously betting that existing federal policy that largely ignores the Endangered Species Act will continue.
It might be worth noting that every one of the Democrats in presidential field have promised renewed vigilence in protecting listed species and enforcing federal environmental law. Just saying.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Water Authority launches $250 million PR effort

Because the Water Authority is all about "sustainable development" - Ha! See, this is "irony"! - the agency, under the guise of its nom-de-developer Las Vegas Valley Water District, has built a $250 million project celebrating its environmental credentials.

Those of you who are opposed to the desertification of hundreds of square miles of the Great Basin can now look forward to the day when similar museums to what has been ruined pop up in Lincoln and White Pine counties. (And dare we dream? The rest of the Nevada, even Utah, as well!?!)

Anyhoo, I wrote a mean column about the Desert Springs Memorial to the Miracle of Infinitely Sustainable Tract Housing and Cheap Strip Malls, which you can read more about here:

Monday, June 4, 2007


A hummingbird in the Snake Valley, ground zero for the Water Authority's plans

Look forward to the Southern Nevada Water Authority claims that the release of a new federal study will justify grabbing rural water and defoliating central Nevada. The study dropped Friday - you didn't see anything about it in the local paper of record, which was busy trumpeting the water agency's museum of what used to be here called the "Desert Springs Preserve." (For $15, you, too, can learn what "sustainability" means when you are a huge booster of ugly tract housing!)
If the Water Authority goes forward with their plans for the pipeline, we'll need similar museums to show the people of White Pine and Lincoln counties what used to be there before the agency decided to improve things.

Anyway, a coalition of groups wants to put some perspective on this issue and released a statement last week:

The release of the U.S. Geological Survey’s draft Basin Area Regional Carbonate Aquifer System Study – commonly referred to by its acronym of BARCASS – will help us understand the interrelated and fragile character of the Great Basin and its water resources.

But the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, Great Basin Water Network, the Nevada Conservation League, the Great Basin Chapter of Trout Unlimited, the Toiyabe Chapter of the Sierra Club, the Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation, and countless individual scientists, conservationists, ranchers and residents of the Great Basin warn that this study should not be used to justify ecologically destructive water “mining” in White Pine, Lincoln or Clark counties.

The BARCASS study presents new data and new interpretation of existing data, but it leaves many important questions unanswered. The one conclusion the study does clearly reach is that the “hydrologic basins,” or valleys, of the region are far more interconnected than previously assumed. That means that taking water out of one valley, such as Spring Valley, is going to have negative repercussions in adjacent valleys or even valleys far from the well sites. This means that plans by the Southern Nevada Water Authority, Vidler Water Co. and others to take water from dozens of wells in rural Nevada could have devastating impacts on wildlife refuges, ranches and American Indian reservations.

What the BARCASS study doesn’t do is predict what will happen if the SNWA plans to mine the vital groundwater are allowed to proceed. The study is narrowly focused on Central Nevada, and does not evaluate cumulative effects of the total quantities approved for pumping.

But hydrologists, those who study groundwater in these fragile areas, agree with those who live in the targeted area on this critical point: There is no “extra” water. The BARCASS study confirms that billions of gallons of water are used in the Great Basin by plants in a process called evaporative transpiration, or evapotranspiration – ET, for short. If you take water away from these valleys, you would be taking water from plants, and from the animals that depend on that vegetation, and from the ranchers and conservationists who count on that ecological balance to sustain the environment.

Unfortunately, there are already some signs that the environment in those areas is in trouble. Pumping and drought have taken their toll in much of the Great Basin. Wild horses have died in an area of the Snake Valley in which springs and seeps have dried up. Pumping more water from rural Nevada to support the fat profit margins of real estate developers who drive the out-of-control growth in Las Vegas will only deepen the negative impacts we have already seen in the Great Basin, as well as in Southern Nevada

The conclusion is clear to scientists, residents and visitors who take an honest look at the region: There is NO unused water in the Great Basin. Drilling, pumping and piping the water out of the rural areas WILL take water away from other sources. The impact could be devastating, and rural Nevada should not be the subject of a wild and dangerous experiment until all of the risks are known.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

National newsweekly picks up Nevada Water Grab

U.S. News and World Report - the news weekly that competes with TIME and Newsweek for space in your dentist's stack of year-old magazines - did a story on Mulroy's New-and-Improved Owens Valley scheme. It is part of a larger package detailing water woes. The local angle is basically a retelling for a national audience of the Water Authority's wheeling and dealing to forestall catastrophe until this generation of policy makers is out of office. Overall, it was better than some national coverage, and much better than what we see too often from in-state media, but omitted any significant input from those up north at the opposite end of the pipeline.
It does come with a neat-oh video clip of some real estate developers flying the reporter around in a helicopter above Lake Las Vegas, the monstrosity that allows 2 percent of our water from the Colorado River to evaporate to create a playground for the filthy rich. To wrap your head around that, that's enough water for about 100,000 people. But why worry when you can just defoliate central Nevada and build more giant outdoor jacuzzis for the wealthy?
Here's the link:

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Soylent Green, Indian Springs, Las Vegas and Sustainability

Jim Brauer, a very sharp guy very worried about what Las Vegas' ever-growing thirst will do to the scarce-but-still-adequate water supplies in tiny Indian Springs out yonder, sent me a link that has gotten me thinking.

Remember that old 1970s dystopia movie Soylent Green? It takes place 40 years or so in the future in a world choked by global warming, population growth, pollution and evil corporations and water agencies. That is, the present, but more so.

Anyhoo, if you did see that movie, you'll remember a scene in which Charlton Heston as the cynical cop purloins an important study of global resources and turns over the study, in the form of a couple of big books, to his aging intellectual roommate - Edward G. Robinson in his last film role. Not to give too much away, but Edward G. Robinson gets so very, very depressed by what he finds in those books that he decides to cash it in.

That's what I was thinking when I looked at the study Jim sent me. It is a very interesting work by some Japanese corporations addressing the issue of "sustainability" globally, and it sure has some applications to the crazy city built on Mohave Desert sand, too. But mostly, it's just kind of depressing.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Dean Baker's Letter to the State Engineer

Dean Baker is a rancher in the Snake Valley of Western Utah and Central Nevada. He runs thousands of head of cattle on thousands of acres and just happens to be the main guy in the way of the Southern Nevada Water Authority's political bulldozer.
Dean and his family are an institution in that neck of the woods. I recently spoke to a school group in tiny Baker, Nevada - the name allegedly unconnected to the Baker family, by the way. Half the kids in this first-through-sixth grade school seemed to be related to Dean.
Anyway, Dean's perspectives on the Water Grab and the impacts on the livelihoods of the people who live in the area to be defoliated under the SNWA plan are important. Here's his letter to the State Engineer. A pivot, for you city folks, is one of those huge circular irrigation machines that you can see from 30,000 feet out your airplane window:

Mr. Tracy Taylor
State Engineer
Dept. of Water Resources
901 Stewart Street, 2nd Floor
Carson City, NV 89701
Re: Ruling 5726

Dear Mr. Taylor:

When one considers the laws, the needs of Las Vegas and the traditional attitude and use of underground water, the Nevada State Engineer made a reasonable decision. The five years of monitoring before any pumping and then the 10 years of pumping 40,000 AF to establish any negative impacts is important. Weather could be an important factor in this 15 year period. I believe 40,000 AF of pumping will show significant impacts. The decision on the 20,000 AF to be phased in after 10 years creates an interesting challenge for all. The DOI with its stipulated agreement should come out of hiding and accept responsibility for its charge to care for its land.

My opinion is that we are sacrificing one area. I mean the plant life, the springs, the wetlands, the wildlife and the life of one area for the potential economic growth (“money”) of another. These valleys are in balance now, water, plant life, and all.

I have observed the change in Snake Valley by the use of underground water. This underground water has been put on the land here to supplement the low flows of the mountain streams in early spring, fall and dry years. This water is put on the ground; it doesn’t disappear into a pipeline. This water creates plant life and recharges the groundwater in Snake Valley.

The impacts in Snake Valley are evident. Some impacts have been painful: a dozen wild horses dying at one dry spring, other dry springs, areas of blowing dust from lost vegetation and hauling water to livestock where once there was spring water.

When one looks at Snake Valley in comparison to Spring Valley on a consumptive basis, there are about 30 crop producing pivots in Snake Valley, and there would be an equivalent 150 pivots in Spring Valley. One hundred fifty pivots would create a field 75 miles long by ½ mile wide

Every area that I am aware of in Nevada, Utah and Idaho and the West with 150 pivots, or over 200 pivots if 60,000 AF are ever allowed would create over 100 miles of fields, has a declining water level and environmental problems. This project will create a long term legacy of billions of dollars spent on a project for a city with unsustainable water use and monumental environmental problems. The environmental problems will be costly, perhaps more than the pipeline itself in the end.


Dean Baker

Following the Decision...

Last week's decision on one portion of the Water Grab by Nevada State Engineer Tracy Taylor to split the difference and give 40,000 acre-feet/year - plus another 20,000 a/f/y if it is shown to be sustainable - is good news from the perspective that it cuts the clearly unsustainable request from the Southern Nevada Water Authority for 91,000 a/f/y. (That's just a hair under 30 billion gallons annually.)
But to paraphrase Hugh Jackson, a Las Vegas interwebs pundit and all around good guy, the camel's snout is now in the tent. I don't think anyone believes that the Southern Nevada Water Authority will accept these limitations in the long term. The strategy is to go ahead and build the pipeline (for $10 billion, $20 billion, or however much it costs - when ratepayers are paying, money's no object!), then literally come back to the well in five or 10 years. By that time, SWA hopes that the environment will have been wrecked, the Endangered Species Act will be "reformed" out of existence, and the farmers of Central Nevada and Western Utah will have been driven out of business.
So the effort to stop SNWA's Water Grab must not just continue, but ramp up. We need to carefully monitor every negative impact and make sure the media, even those clearly in Pat Mulroy's camp, know about them.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Salt Lake Tribune Blasts Water Grab

Water Czarina Pat Mulroy has dismissed the concerns of the citizens of Utah, just as she has the concerns of those in the Silver State, as mere speedbumps on the way to defoliating the Intermountain West. But this editorial scorches the plan to pump Central Nevada - and Western Utah - dry:

Fortunately, Nevada's ill-conceived plan to tap into one of the driest and most ecologically fragile parts of the country cannot go forward without Utah's approval. And state law requires that only a "safe yield" of water, the amount that can be replenished in a year, can be pumped from an aquifer.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Growth and Development Lobby Infected with Rabies

The Review-Journal editorial page toes the line, speaks for Mulroy. From the Las Vegas Gleaner:

R-J demands elected official be tried for treason, executed
Congratulations to the Review-Journal editorial page for doing something they haven't done in quite a long time -- writing an editorial that is so batshit absurd, which is to say more than usually so, that it actually got our attention. Well done, ass-clowns.
True, County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani is a known progressive, and we all know that all those people are just a bunch of Osama-loving terrorist sympathizers. But that's not why the R-J
called her a traitor and demanded her ouster from the Southern Nevada (Growth & Development) Water Authority.

Full post here:

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Another hysterical fanatic weighs in on the Water Grab

Writer and retired physician Andrew Whyman has done a piece for the Tahoe Bonanza speculating on the future of his region's water resources if Las Vegas continues to grow:

Nevada, as it turns out, is the most arid state in our union. Until the last twenty years or so its small population reflected this reality.
Now, fueled by extraordinary population growth, primarily in the more arid southern section of the state, Nevada stands poised on the precipice of an era of divisive and very expensive water wars that could fracture its future. Politicians who fail to grasp this new reality will do irreparable harm to the environment and the people of Nevada.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Salt Lake City Weekly story

Writer Ted McDonough tackles the machinations of the Water Authority, which has an army of lobbyists to stomp on the hysterical fanatics far from Carson City:

Ranchers in Utah’s west desert knew they were in for a fight when Las Vegas decided to sink wells in their back yard. What they didn’t know, however, was that they’d entered a game of high-stakes federal politics.
As the clock ticked down to midnight on the last day of Utah’s legislative session, ranchers in Utah’s Snake Valley were hoping state lawmakers would pass a bill written to safeguard their interests during ongoing negotiations over who gets ancient water beneath the Utah-Nevada border. But the bill never got to the floor for a vote.
Millard County Commissioner John Cooper thinks he knows why: Nevada water lobbyists succeeded in dividing the Utah Legislature with whispers that House Bill 422 could hurt Utah’s own plans to build a pipeline from Lake Powell to growing St. George. Las Vegas can make such threats and be listened to. The majority leader of the U.S. Senate is Nevada’s Harry Reid, who will have much to say about whether Congress signs off on the planned Lake Powell pipeline.


Name calling by any other name

Patricia Mulroy, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, has publicly scolded critics of the Water Grab for "name calling." Of course, she's not above a little name calling herself when it suits her effort to defoliate a large part of the Intermountain West. Opponents to the Water Grab, she suggests, are hysterical fanatics.
This would include, of course, numerous elected representatives throughout rural Nevada and western Utah, conservationists and ranchers from both states and many, many independent scientists from academia and numerous agencies, including the Utah Geological Survey and federal land managers.
The relevant citations are highlighted in italics.
Mulroy has made similar statements elsewhere. A radio listener recently taped a recent interview in Salt Lake public station KCPW; the transcript, which touches on most of Mulroy's stump speech (and which has been been point-by-point disputed by scientists, White Pine County and Utah officials, environmental advocates, ranchers and others in other forums) follows.


Interviewed on Salt Lake Public Radio Station KCPW by station founder Blair Feulner.

BLAIR FEULNER: This Friday and Saturday is the 12th annual Stegner Symposium presented by the University of Utah College of Law {it}will address issues of Colorado River management focusing on the seven state Colorado River Compact. One of the questions to be explored is whether the 1922 Colorado River Compact is resilient enough to meet the environmental needs and to withstand the hydrological, climactic and economic changes of the next century or whether significant changes to the compact should be made.

This morning we have with us Pat Mulroy, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water District. She is going to be speaking at the Stegner Symposium this Saturday at 2:00 pm on the topic “Beyond the Division”

FEULNER: So what are you going to be talking about this Saturday?

MULROY: Well, I think, I was looking at the program earlier in the week and there are going to be any number of discussions about the environment challenges, about the climate change that the river is going to be experiencing and what that means in terms of snow-fall and run-off and predictions of low water volumes, that are going to be in existence in the future, and since I’m batting cleanup, my position is that in light of such uncertainties, and given the fact that we have to accept that the river was high when it was divided in the first place, we of the Southern Basin States have to come together and find ways to look for the flexibilities that exist in the compact, and I have always said the compact is as flexible and as giving as the 7 states will allow it to be.

FEULNER: So, you’re not in favor of going back and renegotiating what is referred to as the “Law of the River”?

“I’m a pragmatist, and I don’t see that, when you look at it from a pragmatist’s standpoint, I mean it’s not going to happen. What Legislature… I mean the compact was ratified by Congress…it was ratified by all the Legislatures .. minus one…that issue was then resolved in the Supreme Court…and that whole process took what 40 years before it was resolved? We don’t have the 40 years of luxury. And if it was difficult back in the late twenties, when there was assumed between 18 and 19 million acre feet of flow in the river, it would be nigh impossible given water demands on the river are today.. and there are opportunities to augment the flows of the Colorado River and I think that those kind of projects which will bring more resources to bare on the Colorado systems that will benefit all the users, are the ones we need to be focusing on rather than trying to re-divide a shrinking pie.

FEULNER: In particular though, I think there is a feeling in Nevada that back in 1922, that you guys kinda got the short end of the stick…

MULROY: Oh absolutely, and if we wanted to beat our chest on that issue, we could do so successfully for the next thirty years, but I’m not sure that will produce any new water supplies for Southern Nevada, Granted, … I think the river was divided based on agricultural use, …No one lived in Southern Nevada, it was a whistle stop on the Union Pacific Railroad and no one ever expected a Las Vegas to emerge. I think there’s some lessons to be learned in what happened between 1922 and 2008. I think that trying to lock in forevermore divisions in as ridged a way as you possibly can is not in anybody’s interest and so if there’s ever been a time for us to find new ways to jointly manage water resources and do a lot of conjunctive use across state lines and collaboratively with neighboring states now is the time to do it.

FEULNER: Are you taking all of your allocation out of the Colorado River now Pat?

MULROY: We were as of 2002. In 2002 there was 25% of run-off. We put Southern Nevada through a massive culture shift. Within two years we had reduced the amount of water we were using from 325,000 to 265,000 and today we are still not exceeding our allocation, so we went back under our 300,000 and have stayed well below the 300,000 ever since.

FEULNER: As a matter of fact you are still trying to figure out how to get your maximum allocation out of Lake Mead given the fact that the level of the lake just dropped. So you are contemplating a very expensive project right now.

MULROY: Um that’s correct. We expect given the agreement that the basin states have entered into and that the Federal Government is right now and department of the interior are embarking on their EIS for - that they’ve got the draft EIS on the street, we can anticipate that Lake Mead will be drawn down to below our first intake, which sits at elevation 1,050. So in order to replace the capacity of that intake and create more flexibility for all the states and how they manage Mead and Powell we are building a third intake going all the way down to elevation 860 which is the bottom of the lake and boring out into the bottom of the lake and coming up into the original Colorado River channel. That project is beyond contemplation. Right now we have a design bill proposal out on the street – I mean it is such a complicated project, that there are not a lot of firms in the United States that can actually build a project of this magnitude, and we expect it to cost about a billion dollars.

FEULNER: It gets my attention.

MULROY: Yeah, it got my attention too, trust me.

FEULNER: So when you say flexibility, what would you like to see? There’s been a lot of talk about whether the states should have the ability under the compact to kind of buy and sell rights that they may have under the compact to other states. Should Utah be able to sell water to the Great State of Nevada?

MULROY: I think it’s a matter of how it would be structured. For example, I mean the obligation of every one of the states is to protect their own users and not cause, by trying to be a good neighbor, shortages for themselves. I think that the banking agreement that Nevada and Arizona have stands as a model on how this can work. Arizona created a ground water banking authority. Under that, that authority takes over drafted ground water bases that lie along the central Arizona project aqueduct and they use their Colorado River water or their ground water and they inject it into the ground water basin and store it there. We entered into an agreement where we pay them 350 million dollars. And for that 350 million dollars they will bank for us 150 million acre feet, which we can draw down at a maximum of amount of 40,000 acre feet a year. Now by doing that they have the opportunity over time to put that water in their ground water basin and at the same time assure that they don’t have to take it away from any of their existing users. The end of the line is to create a solution that we have to look for.

FEULNER: Talking with Patricia Mulroy, General Manager of the Las Vegas (Valley) Water District and the Southern Nevada Water Authority. She is going to be addressing the Stegner Conference this Saturday at 2:10 p.m. Name of the speech is Beyond the Divisions . . . If you would like further information or would like to register call 801-585-3440, or go on line at Let’s shift gears here now Pat and talk to me about the negotiations over the water in Snake Valley. Pull out your radio map and tell folk where this is located.

MULROY: Well let me back up a little a bit here. The basin states that are our neighbors have demanded for some time that Nevada develop water resources that they filed on back in 1989 and those were ground water resources. Those resources lie in six basins, 4 of which are in Lincoln County, two of which are in White Pine County, which is going up the east side of Nevada. The 2 basins in White Pine County, and there’s one of that affects the state of Utah; one is Spring Valley, and the other is Snake Valley. Spring Valley has no towns in it, there are some ranching operations in Spring Valley and we have bought some of those ranching operations. The issues have revolved all around Snake Valley between the State ofNevada and The State of Utah. The way the flow system in that valley works, if we repeat, since I’m on the Nevada side of the line, most of the water is on the Nevada side of the line, most of the land use is on the Utah side of the line. Since our filings there has been a steady escalation of what can only be described as near hysteria. We attempted last year to sit down with White Pine County to negotiate an agreement, and actually offered them a seat at the table. We negotiated a stipulation with the Federal land use agencies and those Federal Agencies that are charged with the responsibility to be stewards of the environment the wildlife and the land resources right before our hearing in Spring Valley. There were two committees that would be the decision makers on how much and where and when water can be pumped from that valley. And sitting on that group are the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the National Park Service. So Nevada will never have the ability to simply take however much water that they may want out of that Valley. We will have to manage that valley adaptively in partnership with those Federal Agencies. We invited White Pine County to take a seat at that table and in all honesty we waited for a long time before we got the ranches in Spring Valley to help us manage the watershed, because we wanted an agreement with White Pine County first. The air has been so poisoned by those who fanatically oppose this that they will not look at any way of making it work that today White Pine County has been unable to enter into that agreement. So since then we’ve bought any number of ranches mostly for their surface water rights, which we never ever intend to take out of Spring Valley. But with those surface water rights we can recharge the basin more effectively than it is currently being recharged and it allows us to recharge that basin so that it does not destroy the habitat for endangered species

FEULNER: How much water did you file on? How much water would you like to take out of Snake Valley?

MULROY: Out of Snake Valley? Snake Valley has an annual water budget of I don’t know what the BARCASS study is going to show… but conservatively of about 120,000 (acre-feet) and we are seeking 25,000 of that. The main source for water is out of Spring Valley which is not a basin that is shared with the state of Utah. The discussions between the state of Nevada and the State of Utah have caused great consternation in those quarters that view the requirement for this agreement as a way to stop the project from happening. The way the language is written, if Utah were to not enter an agreement, then the State of Nevada would be precluded from moving water out of that Basin. Unfortunately, in the interim GOC has filed in Hamlin Valley, which is a shared basin with the State of Nevada, and I can only assume that the same provision that applies to Hamlin Valley that applies to Snake Valley. Which means that Cedar City is not going to be able develop water resources in Hamlin Valley if the State of Nevada doesn’t agree. There is also the issue of St. George who wants to build a pipeline to Lake Powell, and you can see there any number of touch points between Nevada and Utah that require cooperation. I don’t blame the state of Utah for wanting to protect its existing users, I would feel the same way. I don’t blame the State of Utah for wanting to protect the environment, but we have so much noise and so much hyperbole around what is and is not possible in that valley, that I think its time for cooler heads to prevail.

FEULNER: What does the science actually say here? I have read, I don’t know if it’s true, that the Utah Geological Survey claims that if you take that water out of Snake Valley, the water table will drop upwards of about 100 ft.

MULLROY: You know, the problem with those models is that the Basin has never been stressed. Most of that agriculture is from surface water. The wells that do exist right now in the valley are fairly shallow. Most are down two maybe three hundred feet, which creates a whole different cone of depression. I think the kind of data you put in (determines) the kind of data you’re going to pull out. A lot of it depends on how you posit the kind of well you put in, what kind of depression you create. Where those wells are located and that will require a lot of on-going scrutiny and on going monitoring and watchfulness on all parties to make sure that no environmental consequences are effectuated… and let’s be honest, Southern Nevada takes 90% of its water from the Colorado River. We know that we’re going into a period where we could potentially be looking at 2 to 2 and one half million feet of shortage declarations in the lower basin. There is no way that Southern Nevada can replace lost water from the Colorado River without having a replacement source separate and apart from the Colorado River.

FEULNER: The farmers in the area.. and this may be some of the hysteria are hearing, categorizing this negotiation as craps verses crops….

MULROY: When it gets down to name calling , when you don’t have anything substantive to say, you get down to name calling, I’m not even going to react to that kind of stuff. It’s getting a little old. You can call me any name in the book, you can call Las Vegas any name in the book. At the end of the day, its community, its families that go to church on Sunday, we send children to school who have dreams and hopes, who go to work every day just like they do in Salt Lake City, and so I’m not even going to get into that.

FEULNER: The Utah State Legislature passed a resolution basically saying: that they wanted Mike Styler and his guys to be very careful, but I believe that they did not pass a resolution that would have created yet another advisory committee on this side of the state line that would have to sign off on this whole thing. So when do you think that this thing will be negotiated? When do you think that cooler heads will prevail, as you put it?

MULROY: Oh I think it will take some time. I think Mike is going to have to figure out how he wants to proceed. I know that we in Nevada have been watching the Utah process very carefully. But I’ve been through this before on any number of fronts, and at the end of the day when all the yelling and screaming is over and people start calming down and start looking at reality, at the end of the day there is a solution possible.

FEULNER: The other concern here Patricia is that once Las Vegas starts putting its straws in the ground over there, even if the science shows that it is effecting the water table, that there won’t be anything that the State of Utah can do about that.

MULROY: Well so much history has happened in other areas that would refute that. Look, Owens Valley, let’s go to the one that everyone’s afraid of, L.A. made some serious mistakes, before we had and environmental assays and they took too much water from Mona Lake and so since then they’ve had to give it back. Things change and it’s very easy to create fear, it’s very easy to create hysteria, and so I mean as long as those voices feel that that is productive, that will give the west as what I see will be real difficult time that were entering into. If we have created such ugliness in the relationships between states, I think the loses will be the citizens of both states.

Time for talk on the Water Grab

Note that there is an upcoming meeting on the water grab, this one focused on the federal Environmental Impact Statement. The feds are having a meeting in Utah to gather input from affected residents of the Beehive State. (Um, that would be just about everyone living in west-central Utah, that drinks the milk produced by the region's cows, that cares about the quality of the natural environment, etc.)

Public meeting on Draft Snake Valley groundwater report

What: Public meeting

Who: Kimball E. Goddard
Director, USGS Nevada Water Science Center

When: 1:00 p.m., Monday, March 26, 2007

Where: Auditorium
Utah Department of Natural Resources
1594 West North Temple

Why: A final review of the draft Basin and Range Carbonate Aquifer System Study (BARCASS), is nearing completion. The public draft report will be ready in July 2007. The six-million dollar project is being completed in an effort to improve the understanding of groundwater in Western Utah/Eastern Nevada (Snake Valley area).

Anyone interested in the latest scientific information about water resources in the remote part of Utah/Nevada, which is now embroiled in a controversy with Southern Nevada over the export of water to the Las Vegas area, is invited to attend

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

A local environmental hero

Getting green is going to be a marathon, not a sprint, as my colleagues like to say. It's really going to be a discussion that involves quite a few voices, even those in the growth-and-development lobby that don't ostensibly share many of the values of the environmental movement.
One of the leading voices in Las Vegas has actually been one that talks to all sides. Steve Rypka writes a regular column (buried in the home & garden section every other Saturday, unfortunately) that helps people live a greener, healthier, more sustainable lifestyle. Rypka, president of a local company that specializes in green building, alternative energy and similar smart choices, can frequently be found out and about at lectures, talks and events. He recently helped provide testimony on the notorious Southern Nevada Water Authority water grab at a hearing of the Nevada Assembly -- which was delicious, since he last year won an award from the agency for his energy and water-efficient home.
Rypka's website provides some insight into the water grab as well as sensible tips for sustainable living in the desert. You can see the catalogue of his columns and other information here:

Monday, March 5, 2007

Jim Deacon takes on the Water Grab

If you live in or near Las Vegas, you've heard for years that growth is just what the doctor ordered -- Dr. Feelgood, that is, always ready to feed that addiction. Problem is, we’ve come splat up against the wall limiting growth: the scarce natural resources of the Mojave Desert.
The Southern Nevada Water Authority says what we need is an injection of tasty, growth-abetting water from our neighbors in east-central Nevada. It’s called the water grab, and it threatens wildlife, agriculture and ranching throughout a huge area, from central Utah to Death Valley in California, and lots of Nevada in between.
What are the implications of the water grab? Dr. Jim Deacon, a UNLV scientist who is one of the top researchers on desert biology, recently submitted written testimony to the Nevada Assembly. Here is the full text of his testimony:

Discussions of the effects of the proposed Southern Nevada water project often lead to assurances that Owens Valley-like consequences can't happen today because our environmental laws, and the criteria that must be used by the State Engineer are sufficient to prevent those consequences. There is relatively little discussion about what the probable consequences are. To date there is one comprehensive study, published by USGS in 1995, that attempts to evaluate the effect of the SNWA groundwater project on the regional groundwater table. It concludes that if the only draw on the regional aquifer was the 180,800 acre-feet per year sought by SNWA, there would be a noticeable decline in the groundwater table extending approximately from Death Valley California to Sevier Lake Utah. The decline from about Indian Springs to Baker, Nevada would probably exceed 50 feet, and in some areas could reach 1600 feet.

This means that everyone dependent on groundwater for domestic, agricultural, commercial, or municipal uses throughout the region would realize an increase in cost of living or the cost of doing business. Furthermore, throughout the region, springs, wetlands, and phreatophytes (plants whose roots must reach groundwater to survive), would decline in proportion to the local extent of the groundwater decline. Varying degrees of jeopardy therefore would fall on 3 Nevada State Wildlife Management Areas, 4 Federal Wildlife Refuges, 2 National Parks, 3 National Recreation Areas, 20 listed endangered species, 137 unlisted spring dependent endemic species, and 347 sensitive species in the Nevada Natural Heritage Database.

Can these consequences be prevented?
Nevada water law is considered among the best in the U.S. from the standpoint of ensuring sustainable use. It requires the State Engineer to protect prior rights, ensure that water rights are put to beneficial use, are not detrimental to the public interest, and do not result in mining of groundwater. The State Engineer usually attempts to estimate "perennial yield" as a primary basis of avoiding mining. In a given basin, allocation of 100% of perennial yield, under ideal circumstances, would dry up all springs and wetlands, kill all phreatophytes, and stop all underground flow to other basins. Water previously serving those purposes would be pumped into a pipe to be used for domestic, agricultural, commercial, or municipal purposes. That is substantially what has already happened in Las Vegas Valley, Pahrump Valley, and other areas in Nevada where demand for urban uses is high.

It's important to remember that the USGS study projected probable impacts based on the assumption that the 180,800 acre-feet per year SNWA says it wants would be the only draw on the regional aquifer. That amount constitutes about 25% of the estimated perennial yield throughout the area of Nevada potentially impacted. SNWA applications actually added up to more than 330,000 acre-feet per year when I examined the State Engineer's records in February 2006. And of course, the SNWA groundwater project will not be the only draw on the aquifer. As of February 2006, rights had already been granted for 730,587 acre-feet (102% of perennial yield), and applications in addition to those submitted by SNWA amounted to 883,860 acre-feet. This suggests the virtual certainty that, as in the past, the State Engineer is likely to approve rights to considerably more than 100% of perennial yield. Consequences therefore are likely to exceed those projected by the 1995 USGS study.

Welcome to Rake's blog

What makes Las Vegas green? It's not the acres of desert-destroying, water-hungry turf. It's living in the desert in an environmentally respectful, sustainable way. That means using natural resources, especially water and land, in a sensible way. It means getting away from out-of-control growth. It means letting the region's elected leadership know that the growth-and-development lobby isn't the only political potent force around -- that the people are tired of surrendering their quality of life in favor of profit for a few.