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August 1, 2014

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Nevada leaders largely silent on pipeline controversy

Brian Sandoval

Brian Sandoval

Harry Reid

Harry Reid

Last week, the public got a chance to voice its opinions on the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s pipeline project.

The state’s elected officials, meanwhile, have for years been largely silent on the proposal to send water from rural Nevada to Las Vegas, trying to find a neutral position on the project.

Regardless of the outcome, the project could have enormous repercussions. For proponents, it’s a 300-mile lifeline for Las Vegas, the engine of the state’s economy. For opponents, it’s is a boondoggle, potentially damaging the environment and costing residents between $3.5 billion and $15 billion, including financing costs for water that might not be needed given the slowing of growth in Southern Nevada.

Officials’ silence on the matter recalls Theodore Roosevelt’s famous phrase: “A typical vice of American politics is the avoidance of saying anything real on real issues.”

The Sun asked top elected officials this week if they support or oppose the Water Authority’s pipeline project. Their answers were far from blunt.

• Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican from Reno, said as he did during his campaign that the project is an issue for the state engineer. The engineer, who is conducting the ongoing hearings, is appointed by the director of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, who is appointed by the Republican governor.

• Sen. Harry Reid, the Democrat from Searchlight who sponsored federal legislation that had raised $285 million for the Water Authority as of 2008, said in a statement this week: “It’s important for Nevada to improve its water security by diversifying our limited water supplies and continuing to improve water conservation and reuse efforts.” The Colorado River, which provides 90 percent of Southern Nevada’s water, is a “limited resource susceptible to drought and rising temperatures.”

His office would not expand on Reid’s statement to clarify his position on the pipeline.

• Sen. Dean Heller, a Republican from Carson City, would only say it is a state issue. “The last thing Nevada needs is federal involvement in how we allocate and manage our water,” he said in a statement.

• Rep. Shelley Berkley, the Las Vegas Democrat who’s running against Heller for Senate, was asked by the Sun this summer if she supported the project. She responded with a candid, “I do,” but then quickly retreated: “It depends on the negative impact it could have.”

(This week, her office offered milquetoast: “We need to find a solution to our region’s water supply challenges that strikes the right balance in meeting the needs of all communities involved.”)

The issue is certainly perilous for any politician seeking to appeal to voters statewide. It has passionate opponents and backers who represent the most powerful interests in the state.

Environmentalists and residents in counties such as White Pine say the project would devastate the way of life in rural Nevada. Costs have ballooned, they argue, and they believe they have momentum. A particularly wet winter raised Lake Mead while growth in the region has slowed to a drip.

Michael Ginsburg, Southern Nevada director of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Southern Nevada, said that when the project was conceived in the late 1980s, “Pretty much everyone was in support of it. It was hard to find an elected official who was against it in Clark County.” Today, he said, “several elected officials are at least on the fence, or saying, ‘let’s do our due diligence, see what the project costs, what’s its benefit.’ ”

But the supporters of the project, including the big casinos, labor, contractors and developers, cannot be dismissed by anyone who’s in or seeking elected office.

“If there’s an elected official who hasn’t taken a position, in their heart they know it,” said Danny Thompson, head of the AFL-CIO. “They do have to make a decision. If they come out against it, there’s a price to that too. You’re gambling, literally, with the state.”

Opponents say they fear the state water engineer could be pressured.

“The process should be as depoliticized as possible,” state Sen. Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, said. “Las Vegas is the thirsty gorilla. Clearly they have the political power. It’s reassuring their decisions are made on science and fact, not on political considerations.”

Thompson noted that state lawmakers have proposed bills that would have killed the project. Each of those bills has died.

J.C. Davis, a spokesman for the Water Authority, said the agency’s board, made up of local elected officials from throughout Clark County, voted 6-0 to move forward with the project.

Although it affects most of the state, the governor is not required to make a decision on the pipeline case, Davis said. “The Nevada state engineer is responsible for adjudicating water rights.”

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  1. IRRESPONSIBLE planning by the County Commissioners has led to this crisis! And THEY should ultimately be held accountable!

    Right now, we see their CONTINUED flagrant disregard with their passing a permit for some 4,000 homes planned for the fragile Red Rock area. Money and power talks in Nevada. Integrity is secondary. Even with the scarsity of water resources, SNWA just issued a PSA telling folks that they can plant water thirsty LAWNS with their blessings! Is that a responsible move? It is corruption at its best.

    Since I am a resident of both White Pine and Clark Counties, and KNOW the situation, I can attest to the water supply up North is LIMITED, Ely has had water rationing, ranchers have had to REdrill water wells all due to the aquifers water tables DROPPING! There is NOT extra to give, just that simple and it is NOT going to be a SUSTAINABLE water supply for Las Vegas. NOT.

    But with the absolute political corruption in Nevada, my bets are that this SNWA Pipeline Project will go through, costing citizens BILLIONS of dollars, and desvastating points up North.

    The real kicker is that the LAWS will be used citing this passage. Corrupt laws written by corrupt people that exist for over a century. Education and SCIENCE have always taken a backseat in priorities with Nevada LAWMAKERS and their wealthy backers.

    Just review history.

    Has Clark County planned and built knowing this is a desert? Have they REQUIRED SUSTAINABLE building? NO!!!! Only a few token recycling water project with the fountains and golf courses, and forcing home owners to limit their water use with xeroscape and water schedules("hardening them" as Ms. Mulroy would say). That's it.

    This decision with the State Water Engineer should be delayed until County and City Planners responsible for GROWTH demonstrate that they require and enforce SUSTAINABLE building and growth. NO PIPELINE unless they do this.

  2. Pumping of aquifers has consistently lead initially to growth, then decline and disaster all over this country. Once the water tables have dropped, the energy and expense required to pump the water out grows without relief.

    Read:

    "Water Follies: Groundwater Pumping And The Fate Of America's Fresh Waters"

    "Unquenchable: America's Water Crisis and What To Do About It"
    both by Robert Glennon, Univ of Arizona.

    Subsidence of the land will finally destroy the aquifer, the land on top and the 'grown economy' then folds, and very fast.

  3. The "Leaders" are silent because they are not leaders but poll slaves. For obvious reasons this does not poll well at all in rural Nevada, and urban Nevada is divided about it because it is a lot of money for very little water, could affect the recreational and agricultural uses of a big part of the state, and it puts Clark County into very deep hock for a long time. Without the people surging in a particular direction, "Leaders" will not go out to lead them.

  4. Officials' silence on the matter recalls Theodore Roosevelt's famous phrase: "A typical vice of American politics is the avoidance of saying anything real on real issues."

    Teddy Roosevelt got it right - the elected officials of Nevada and especially southern NV lack the courage and integrity to call the question on what is a sustainable future for the Las Vegas Valley. Considering we are in the driest desert in North American, and climate change reducing water supplies in general - both aquifer and river, it is not a doubling of the population as envisioned by SNWA planners.

    If approved the water from the pipeline will only lead to a false sense of security and ultimately result in a cataclysmic collapse of southern NV - after destroying the basic ecosystems of central Nedvada in the process.

  5. Without the Water Grab, there will be no New City built an hour north of Las Vegas on the Clark-Lincoln County line. That's 159,000 houses in Coyote Springs that SNWA Czarina Pat Mulroy wants to build, with non-union labor.
    Of course, the existing rate payers will have to pay the $15 billion bill for her widdle biddy project, so get ready to cough up a used car annually in increased water bills. And if you have a home, just think what 159,000 new homes will do to the already crippled local market for resale.
    But those issues are not the problem. As Mrs. Mulroy insists, there is no financial or environmental cost so great that it will stop her legacy.