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.