Thursday, February 28, 2008

CityLife Continues Water Grab Scrutiny

By native Las Vegas, growth skeptic, smarty pants and one of my favorite writers, Andrew Kiraly. Like a good stew, the tasty bits (and I'm all deliciously caramelized) are at the bottom:

"These aquifers are all connected, and they're the source for surface water, including rivers that feed Lake Mead, and springs and seeps that are critical habitat for rare plants and animals," says Launce Rake of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, a foe of the rural pipeline plan. "We don't understand what's happening out there. Some scientists are getting a grasp, and the more we know, the more fragile those interconnected environments look."

Even scientists who worked on the study tend to concur.

"One of the big question marks is if you start to pump, are there going to be impacts around the Great Basin into lowering water levels?" says Dan Bright, assistant state director for the USGS's Nevada Water Science Center; he's also an editor on the BARCASS study. "If that's a concern, we need to do little bit more looking at groundwater flow from basin to another. You can't put a well in a basin and say we're just going to look at [the effects on] the basin. We have to look on a regional scale, not just a basin-to-basin scale. There's concern that if you pump from one basin, you may impact another basin. There's concern about how much to pump because the system has never been stressed before, and we don't know how the aquifers will react if you pump it."

As the scientific tools for finding water underground become sharper, it seems the knife can cut both ways.

"I would love to be convinced on the merits of the science that we can go in there and double or quadruple the size of Las Vegas on the back of rural water," says Rake. "If we could do that without threatening the environment and the rural economy, I'd be jumping on board. Unfortunately, there is no free lunch. The more we know, the worse it looks."

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