Las Vegas Sun

August 31, 2014

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Sun Editorial:

Water pipeline will be good for both Clark County and the state

Image

Sam Morris / Sun File Photo

Discoloration around the banks of lake mead shows how much the water level has declined over the years. Lake Mead is currently over half full, its water supply has been depleted due to an ongoing drought and the demands put on it by the growing community in southern Nevada.

Last November, the water level in Lake Mead dropped to a place it hadn’t been since 1937 — when the lake was originally being filled.

A long drought and population growth in the Southwest had taken a toll: Lake Mead had fallen more than 130 feet over the previous dozen years. That wasn’t good news for anyone who depends on the Colorado River, which feeds Lake Mead. Under the law that governs the river, if the lake’s elevation hits 1,075 feet, a shortage is declared, bringing about limits on how much water can be drawn out of the lake. Last November, the lake was within about seven feet of that mark.

A wet winter and good snow in the Rockies brought lake levels up, but that shouldn’t lessen the concern. The lake is still 114 feet lower than it was in 2000, and there is still the potential for it to drop again. A 2008 study by the Scripps Institute of Oceanography and the University of California, San Diego, said there was a 50-50 chance that Lake Mead could be drained by 2021 due to growth and climate change.

Although growth has slowed and Las Vegas has enough water for current needs, this is still a sobering situation. With the potential limits on Lake Mead, which provides about 90 percent of the water for Las Vegas, the region needs to prepare for the future.

A bird rests in Las Vegas Bay on Lake Mead at sunset Friday afternoon, April 21, 2006.

A bird rests in Las Vegas Bay on Lake Mead at sunset Friday afternoon, April 21, 2006.

The Southern Nevada Water Authority has been aggressive, not to mention creative, in trying to provide more water, and the state engineer is now holding hearings to consider the authority’s request to draw water from rural areas in Central Nevada. Under the proposal, the Water Authority would build an array of wells, pumping stations and a 300-mile pipeline to bring water to Las Vegas.

Environmentalists and others in rural Nevada and western Utah are vigorously opposing the authority’s plans. They say the project would harm the rural areas and argue the costs would be prohibitive. They also have claimed Southern Nevada doesn’t really need the water and suggest future water could be provided through further conservation efforts and building desalination plants on the Pacific Ocean in exchange for some of California’s share of Lake Mead.

However, in our analysis of the proposal, those arguments don’t hold up. For example:

• Timing: It is true the region doesn’t need the water immediately, but the Water Authority doesn’t plan to build the project until it is needed. Water officials are trying to get approvals now so they can move quickly in the future, and that’s wise.

• Environment: The Water Authority has made agreements with federal agencies to monitor the rural areas and work to mitigate any environmental problems.

• Cost: Opponents claim the pipeline will cost $15 billion, pointing to a number in a report done for the Water Authority, but that is a worst-case scenario. In a realistic scenario, the cost to build the project in today’s dollars would be under $4 billion, and the cost to water users in Las Vegas spread over decades would be reasonable.

• Conservation: Southern Nevada does a good job of saving and reusing water, and has been able to increase its supply by doing so. While there is room to do more, conservation alone won’t provide enough water for future use.

• Desalination: It sounds good but is incredibly expensive and uses an immense amount of power, and desalination hasn’t proven to be feasible at this point.

However, even if conservation or desalination were viable, they won’t help Las Vegas if Lake Mead’s water level drops and there’s a shortage limiting available water.

There are those who say Nevada should limit or stop growth, but that doesn’t make sense. Without more water, Southern Nevada’s future dries up, and that’s good for no one. The Water Authority has offered a solid plan. It should be supported.

•••

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Previous Discussion: 8 comments so far…

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  1. Curtail the out of control growth and the pipeline wont be needed. All this pipeline would do is cause more growth and build a need for more, STOP IT NOW.

  2. Let me again voice that I am a resident of both White Pine County and Las Vegas (since I am working here).

    For well over a decade, the folks up in White Pine County have had issues with limited water! On numerous occassions, Ely even has had to RATION water! This has been in recent history within the past 10 years! Ranchers all around White Pine County have been faced with REdrilling their wells because the water tables in the UNDERGROUND aquifers have DROPPED!

    Surface precipitation as the yearly snows, rain, and fog simply are NOT enough to recharge these aquifers. Due to even slight growth up there, the demand has gone up and that, I believe, has aggrevated this situation. The REopening of the gold, silver, molybium mines also increased demand and use of water.

    When you go fishing at the local lakes up there, you notice the water levels. Some recent years, it has been just pitiful. That affects the local economy as well with the folks who visit the area to fish and staying there, eating there, and getting their supplies.

    Las Vegas has been out of control for the last 20 or so years in so many ways: UNcontrolled/non-enforced illegal immigration and population, non-sustainable building exploded all over Clark County without the infrastructure to support it, political corruption, and more. Behaviors are the root of the problem. And SNWA knew over a decade ago that WATER is GOLD in this state. Those who have the water, dictate what is going to happen.

    It would take common sense and the setting aside of political bickering and posturing to focus and create a transcontinental water channel project: transporting water from the FEMA coded disaster areas of the MIDWEST that flood yearly in and through a channel (using already existing highway easement along Highway 40, etc. which goes east-west), having that transcontinental channel tapped for needed water along the long by drought striken areas in other states, as the water heads WEST towards Nevada and California.

    Sure, it is expensive, and so is the purposed SNWA Pipeline project. But with the FEDERAL government, with these affected states all chipping in, and keeping JOBS, SUPPLIES, INDUSTRY, and SERVICES limited to AMERICAN, it not only provides water, but provides a way to pull the AMERICAN economy out of the depression mud! In the long haul, it would financially break even or put our economy on a positive path! See the BIG picture?

    Southern Nevada is in a DESERT. Too many greedy, power-driven folks have negatively impacted Southern Nevada with UNsustainble building, which requires sustainable utilities as WATER and POWER.
    SHAME SHAME SHAME

    Blessings and Peace, Star

  3. "Will be good" and "would be less than $4 billon" are the operative phrases. What about cost effectiveness and certainty? There are alternatives like the Salton Sea and Ocean water swaps. I think it is certain that the Colorado river will not dry up anytime soon so why not buy up the Colorado river water rights from the farmers down stream from the Dam? We can raise crops in many places or for that matter import food. A private oil pipeline caring 33,600,000 gallons of oil (800,000 barrels) 1700 miles every day from Alberta Canada to Houston is now believed to cost $7 billion dollars. How much will it cost for this 300-mile water pipeline from central Nevada - $3, $4, $15 billion? It must be hard to determine given that in America there are gas and oil pipelines running everywhere but investor probably never understood what the real costs would be? Please, spare us the drama.

  4. The government regulators will hinder this more then the people who don't want a pipe line crossing their back yard. Anyway, dig some ditches and let the drainage begin! There are so many people complaining they don't have a job I am sure they are happy to shovel dirt all day for $15 an hour, live in a camp and send the money back home to the wife and kids.. if not plenty of worker from Mexico ready and waiting for visas

  5. A pipe dream at best for this line or any other line unless the EIR/EIS studies cost a few hundred million then we'll have to pay for biological studies and we must not forget about the BIA sucking a another few hundred million to be paid to the tribes then this pipe will be constructed. When it's all said and done, we'll have to pay off the liberal agenda a billion or so before any pipeline will be supported otherwise it will never be built.

  6. The whole state of Nevada only gets 4% of the water that comes down the Colorado River allocated for the lower basin. Why is it Southern Nevada's fault the the reservoir is running dry when California gets 58.7% and Arizona gets 37.3%? Like our huge 4% makes much of a difference in the water usage on Lake Mead. What really needs to be done is encourage farmers in California and Arizona to use more efficient sprinklers for their crops. Some of the farmers are using irrigation equipment from the 1960's. The water authority should spend their billions of dollars on that and use the water saved for the city.

  7. The whole state of Nevada only gets 4% of the water that comes down the Colorado River allocated for the lower basin. Why is it Southern Nevada's fault that the reservoir is running dry when California gets 58.7% and Arizona gets 37.3%? Like our huge 4% makes much of a difference in the water usage on Lake Mead. What really needs to be done is encourage farmers in California and Arizona to use more efficient sprinklers for their crops. Some of the farmers are using irrigation equipment from the 1960's. The water authority should spend their billions of dollars on that and use the water saved for the city.

  8. The Hoover Dam was built was to protect California's Imperial Valley from a repeat of the 1905 flood and to assure a permanent water supply for it and California's Rice Valley. At the time this all began, Las Vegas had about 5,000 residents and ample water supplies from its springs. The allocations of water among the States were made accordingly.

    2. The Colorado River Compact can be terminated, but, if termination the water rights established under it continue. That would leave us with the rights to the water previously allocated (provided the Colorado had sufficient flow).

    3. Good luck to us if the Colorado drainage continues in drought. (If you want to see what happens to civilizations that get hit by persistent drought, you could take a long trip to anyplace in the Sahara or a short trip to the Anasazi ruins scattered across Nevada, Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, and Colorado.)

    4. For Las Vegas, this pipeline to (comparatively) wetter Northeast Nevada is better than doing nothing at all. Personally, I believe than desalinating water from the Gulf of California and transporting it to Southern Nevada by canal would be cheaper -- and provide more water in the long run. That additional water could increase crop production in the Imperial Valley, finally bring the Rice Valley into production, and allow additional agricultural production in other parts of Nevada, Arizona, California, and Mexico as well.