Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Politics Trumps Science Once Again

So if a bevy of federal agencies sign off on the Southern Nevada Water Authority's efforts to defoliate East-Central Nevada to fuel growth in Las Vegas, that must mean it's A-OK, right?

Well, not really. In what looks like yet another shameful abrogation of responsibilities by the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Bureau of Land Management and other public agencies, federal officials are ignoring their own science.

Dr. Timothy Mayer, a Fish and Wildlife consultant, wrote in a November report that the SNWA's demand for 35,000 acre-feet of water from Northern Lincoln County would lead to springs and wells drying up throughout hundreds of square miles of rural Nevada, including some National Wildlife Refuges. He was very clear in his report, which you can find online at :

In his analysis, Mayer stated that “…the system is completely appropriated and the State Engineer should deny all water right applications in the Dry Lake and Delamar Valleys.”

The Nevada State Engineer is going to consider this latest round of the water grab in early February, but he and his staff may not hear the science. The feds, who face enormous political pressure to support the water grab, withdrew their protests after getting a promise from SNWA that if SNWA notices any adverse impacts the agency might, you know, cut back a little. Whew. I'm sure the endangered species, migratory birds and the people whose wells are going to die feel better now.

With the feds running away scared, they take their evidence with them.

“We cannot claim that we weren’t warned. We can only say that the economic and political pressures were considered more important than the scientific analysis,” said my friend, Sierra Club activist Dennis Ghiglieri, in a press release. “Does the federal government believe the State Engineer will make a fully informed decision when one of the most significantly affected parties opts out of the hearing?”

Sadly, this is far from the first time in recent memory that federal officials have ignored or buried their own science in the name of political expediency. Anybody remember Hurricane Katrina? The Challenger disaster? NASA's work on the global climate crisis?

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