CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — A ruling that granted Southern Nevada Water Authority approval to pump billions of gallons of water from rural areas along the Nevada-Utah line will head back to court after appeals were filed by environmental groups, local governments, Indian tribes, ranchers and others.
The legal challenges were filed Friday and Monday in Ely and Pioche over state Engineer Jason King's ruling in March granting the water authority permission to pump up to 84,000 acre-feet of water a year from the Spring, Dry Lake, Cave and Delamar valleys to supplement Las Vegas' limited supply from Lake Mead.
Under the ruling, water would be piped to Las Vegas through a 300-mile, multibillion dollar project that has yet to be built and still requires permits from the U.S Bureau of Land Management.
An acre-foot is the amount of water it takes to cover an acre of land with one foot of water. The amount granted would fill railroad tanker cars for a train stretching 11,000 miles — or nearly halfway around the Earth at the equator,
"We appealed this decision because it would set a precedent that one big city and a few narrow business interests can trample over the economic and environmental future of many rural communities and huge areas of the country," said Susan Lynn, coordinator with Great Basin Water Network, one of the appellants in the case.
J.C. Davis, spokesman for the water authority, said the appeals were not unexpected. But he said the state engineer's ruling was based on exhaustive analysis and predicted the water right applications would ultimately be upheld by the courts.
"These rights represent an invaluable safety net for a metropolitan area that supports seven in 10 Nevadans and more than two-thirds of the state's economy," Davis said. He added that this year's dry winter and lack of snow in the upper Colorado River Basin, which feeds Lake Mead, underscores the importance of an independent water source for Las Vegas.
Opponents, including people in rural counties in Nevada and Utah, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and conservation groups argued that tapping the groundwater would result in economic and environmental catastrophe.
Members of the Confederate Tribes of the Goshute filed a separate appeal Friday in state District Court in Ely, as did the Mormon Church, which owns the sprawling Cleveland Ranch in the water export area.
Simeon Herskovits, attorney for the Great Basin Water Network, White Pine County and several others involved in the case, said the state engineer's decision sanctions large-scale groundwater mining that will dramatically reduce groundwater levels and cause serious harm to holders of existing water rights.
He also said the pumping would affect a multitude of activities — from ranching and farming to recreation and worship.
Herskovits argued the series of rulings in the matter sanction "unsustainable water exports" and "improperly rely on a woefully inadequate monitoring and mitigation plan as a substitute for ensuring that the project will not cause impermissible harms."
SNWA was granted permits for the rural water rights once before, but in 2010 the Nevada Supreme Court sent the matter back for a new round of hearings. The court ruled the state engineer failed to act on the water authority's applications in a timely manner.
Many of those applications were filed decades ago, and the court said people who were not part of the original case but have a stake in the outcome should be allowed to participate in the proceedings.