Monday, April 13, 2009 | 12:40 p.m.
An environmental protection group has submitted 11 protests of water rights applications today filed by the federal government for groundwater to supply a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain.
The Center for Biological Diversity sent to the Nevada state engineer its protests of the groundwater applications filed by the Energy Department for groundwater in the Oasis Valley Basin, northeast of the town of Beatty.
The protests aim to protect spring and stream flows required for the survival of the Amargosa toad, a rare desert amphibian. The Center for Biological Diversity and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility petitioned the Interior Department to list the toad under the Endangered Species Act on Feb. 26, 2008.
The Energy Department filed for the water rights to the state in January 2009 in support of the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas, and an associated proposed rail line to deliver 77,000 tons of nuclear reactor and defense wastes to the proposed repository.
Each of the Energy Department's 11 applications sought 345 acre feet of groundwater per year from a basin that is already at an annual deficit, according to a report by the U.S. Geological Survey.
"While there is widespread opposition to the construction and operation of Yucca Mountain, there is not yet certainty that it will not move forward," said Rob Mrowka, an ecologist and conservation advocate with the center. "It is also possible that resulting water rights could end up in the hands of a third party, so opposition at all stages of permitting will be important for this vanishing species."
The entire known geographic range of the Amargosa toad is restricted to wet areas, springs and nearby desert uplands in a 10-mile stretch of the Amargosa River and interconnected spring systems in the Oasis Valley.
Fewer than 20 breeding populations have been found near the Amargosa River and surrounding springs in Bullfrog Hills in the valley located in Nye County. The remaining habitat contains about 8,440 acres of riparian and neighboring upland habitat, which faces imminent decline due to numerous impacts, the protest says.
Threats to the Amargosa toad include water diversions, ongoing destruction and modification of the animal's remaining habitat by urban, residential and recreational developments, the introduction of non-native predators, ground disturbance and vegetation removal from grading, grazing and off-road vehicle use as well as accelerating drying caused by global climate change.