Tuesday, July 8, 2008

SNWA Strangles Open Discussion

Oh, those sharpies over at the Southern Nevada Water Authority know that open, honest discussion about their plan to defoliate the Great Basin does not serve the Captains of Industry. So of course, the goal is to muzzle the pesky American Indians, conservationists, ranchers and inhabitants of the entire state of Utah, all of whom have the temerity to question the God Given Right of Las Vegas' developers to continue to build foreclosure magnets.

From the Great Basin Water Network release:

If the Southern Nevada Water Authority gets its way, ranchers, American Indian tribes, conservationists and local governments in two states would be excluded from participating in the public decision-making process for the proposed Las Vegas groundwater development project.

SNWA, Las Vegas’ water wholesaler, hopes to win approval from the Nevada State Engineer to take billions of gallons from the environmentally fragile Snake Valley in rural Nevada and Utah. The State Engineer will review those applications at a pre-hearing conference on July 15 in Carson City, where he will also set the range of evidence to be admitted and the date for the full hearing date to examine the availability of water in Snake Valley, as well as threats the project poses to existing water rights, the fragile desert environment, the economies of rural communities, and air quality all the way to Utah’s Wasatch Front.

Groups and individuals that would be affected by the water-exportation scheme have asked the Nevada State Engineer to be considered “Interested Persons” in the upcoming hearings on the issue. But SNWA has taken legal action in an attempt to bar many of those who would be most affected from participating in the hearing, which will determine how much water, if any, the agency can take from the valley.

The issue of participation is critically important to thousands of people who for various reasons could not formally protest SNWA’s applications to take the water when they were filed nearly two decades ago, but who would be significantly harmed by the water exportation. Fourteen organizations and individuals have sought Interested Party status, including the Salt Lake and Utah County governments, a regional water authority representing eight rural Nevada counties, two Shoshone tribes and the Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation (Goshute Tribe).

Those who have expressed concerns about the impacts of the SNWA effort said the move to bar public participation is consistent with the agency’s past practices.

“Once again, SNWA is showing its true colors: anti-tribe, anti-environment, anti-truth and anti-public participation,” said Ed Naranjo, Tribal Administrator of the Goshute Tribe.

Others throughout the Great Basin agreed.

“SNWA loses no opportunity to shut out legitimate protests to their scheme,” said Ken Hill of the North Snake Valley Water Users Association. “We’ve seen it in the pipeline environmental impact study and in the Nevada Engineer’s hearings. The fact they are pushing the State Engineer for rushed hearings in Snake Valley while related negotiations between Utah and Nevada continue shows they are acting in bad faith.”

Steve Erickson, a Utah-based organizer with the Great Basin Water Network, compared the SNWA’s legal action to a cynically calculated “SLAPP” suit designed to quash public participation in a matter of huge importance to millions in Nevada, Utah and the nation.

“SNWA is using a legal tactic familiar to developers, a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation,” he said. “They want to keep the public out of this process as much as possible, as evidenced by their opposition to allowing parties to participate simply because they weren’t around to protest twenty years ago. And this from an agency that is unelected and unaccountable, and whose books are hidden from view. It’s outrageous.”

County governments in Utah argued in their legal response to the SNWA motions that the Las Vegas water agency “has no good reason to keep the Utah counties from telling their side of the story. The Utah counties, with over a million and a half citizens who stand to take the brunt of these air quality impacts, have a compelling reason to be granted interested person status.”

“How can SNWA or anybody else argue with a straight face that [regional air quality impacts caused by the proposed action] does not qualify as a ‘broad public issue’?” the governments argued in their written response.

The counties note that some of the same air-quality concerns arising from increased erosion and dust storms have come up in negotiations between the federal government and SNWA.

“For SNWA to now turn about in the Snake Valley proceedings and dismiss the very same interests and concerns advanced by the Utah counties is hypocritical and simply not technically nor legally well taken.”

UPDATE, 7-10-08

Nevada State Engineer Tracy Taylor barred most of those petitioning to be included as "interested persons" from participating in the hearings. Among those excluded are the Goshute Tribe, the Wells Band of the Shoshone, and Utah and Salt Lake counties in the Beehive State.

Taylor suggested that those parties should have realized 20 years ago that the SNWA planned to turn the Great Basin into a lifeless dustbowl, so too bad.

From the Salt Lake Tribune:

Taylor's ruling said the counties should have known they needed to protest when the pipeline permit was submitted in 1989. But Ann Ober, Salt Lake County's Environmental Policy Coordinator, said the counties weren't aware nearly 20 years ago of the air-quality problems they would face today under U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rules.

Taylor's decision on interested-person status came down the same day he granted the SNWA about 6 billions gallons of water annually from three valleys in rural Lincoln County, but not before he also required ongoing monitoring of the SNWA's effort to destroy the rural economies and environment. Unfortunately, he also put SNWA in charge of collecting that info, so there is doubt among some quarters (i.e., everyone) on the reliability of the data.