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.

Link: http://www.slweekly.com/article.cfm/waterdeals

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 www.law.ut.edu/stegner. 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.