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July 22, 2014

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Utah, Nevada draft water agreement

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Sam Morris

On a dusty corner lot in the tiny town of Baker, a sign reflects the sentiment: Leave Snake Valley’s water where it belongs, in Snake Valley. Ranchers in Spring Valley sold out to Las Vegas, but Baker continues the Snake Valley fight.

Updated Thursday, Aug. 13, 2009 | 7:51 p.m.

After years of disputes, Nevada and Utah have hashed out a tentative water sharing agreement for the Snake Valley area.

The agreement, mandated by 2004 legislation championed by Sen. Harry Reid, establishes how water in the basin, which is shared between the states is allocated and managed. It was developed over four years by a committee comprised of state water experts, landowners and legal advisers.

Under the agreement, 134,000 acre feet of water per year (an acre foot is the amount of water it takes to cover an acre of land with one foot of water) will be made available for distribution. Each state will get a total of 66,000 acre feet, including water rights already established.

All action on the Southern Nevada Water Authority's application for water rights in the basin will be postponed until Sept. 1, 2019. The basin will also continue to be evaluated in that time so hydrological testing and monitoring can show what impacts new water permits might have on the basin.

“This agreement is a fair and equitable sharing of the water resources of Snake Valley,” Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Director Allen Biagg said in a statement. “Most importantly, it protects existing water rights owners in both states and establishes a long-term monitoring program for the valley’s water, air and biological resources.”

The district initially applied to the state of Nevada for 50,000 acre feet per year from the valley in White Pine County. The district had hoped to be ready to have the applications completed by the end of next year.

The district has already received permits to start drilling in other four other valleys in Eastern Nevada to supply the population of Las Vegas. The application was the final major one sought by the district.

In 2004, Congress ordered Nevada and Utah to study how much water was available in Snake Valley, which includes parts of Nevada and Utah. The experts believe there is 132,000 acre feet.

But Susan Lynn, a coordinator for the Great Basin Water Network, believes that figure is only 70 percent correct.

Lynn said public hearings need to be held not only in Las Vegas but in Ely and Baker on the agreement hammered out between the two states.

Abigail Johnson, also of the Great Basin Network, said there must be at least a 30-day public comment period before any final decision. Lynn and Johnson complained that the negotiations over the water were carried out in secret during four years and the public needs a chance to study them.

Congress ordered the two states to work out an agreement on the allocation and management of the groundwater resources in the valley that straddles the state line.

Water totaling 55,000 acre feet per year was set aside in Utah prior to the act of Congress. And 12,000 were pledged in Nevada.

If there is more pumping, the two states have agreed that an appeal process will be set up to determine if there is any adverse impact.

The water authority has agreed to address adverse impacts to Utah water rights. The authority “has agreed to a process where potentially injured parties register a simplified claim” with the water district. And if that solution is unacceptable, the party may appeal to a two state panel.

The water district in Las Vegas has planned a $3.5 billion water transfer system from Eastern to Southern Nevada. J. C. Davis, a spokesman for the district, said he hoped to have the final decision by 2010.

And the district would be “shovel ready” by that time. But there is no starting date for construction that could begin to tap the water from the other four valleys the district has approval for.

The Nevada and Utah state engineers will hold public meetings prior to signing the agreement.

The hearings will be as follows:

-- Aug. 17, Baker, Nevada, 1 p.m. at the community gymnasium

-- Aug. 17, Delta, Utah, 7 p.m. at the Millard County Fair Building, 81 Manzanita Ave.

-- Aug. 18, Salt Lake City, Utah, 10 a.m. to noon at the DEQ, Building #2, conference room 101, 168 North 1950 West

-- Aug. 20, Las Vegas, Nevada, 9 a.m., at the Southern Nevada Water Authority Board Meeting, Molasky Corporate Center, Southern Nevada Water Authority Board Chambers, 100 City Parkway, Suite 700 (7th floor)

Written comments about the agreement will be accepted until Sept. 14, 2009. Comments may be sent by e-mail to [email protected].

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