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.