Utah-Nev. Groundwater Mining Project Stirs Up Letter

On March 18, Governors Jon Huntsman (Utah) and Jim Gibbons (Nev.) received a letter from leading scientists stating: “A comprehensive evaluation of the Southern Nevada Water Project would almost certainly conclude that the project will adversely impact rural livelihoods, substantially lower groundwater aquifers, reduce biodiversity, and will not be sustainable.”

According to a press release from Natural Resource Project Management, 147 scientists and medical doctors are from 25 states and Mexico and Germany. A copy of the letter also was sent to local, state, and national lawmakers and policy makers in the two states.

Terry Marasco is the proprietor of  Natural Resource Project Management and has worked raising concerns about the Las Vegas pipeline project since November 2004 when he moved to eastern Nevada.

Many of these scientists have been doing research on water-related issues in the southwestern United States for more than 50 years. Their research publications document impacts of groundwater withdrawal on water tables, spring discharge, vegetation, air quality, and agriculture. The letter directs attention to Owens Valley California as an example of an area catastrophically affected by interbasin transfer of surface and groundwater. After surface waters were depleted from Owens Lake, a 64-inch pipeline was built to facilitate transfer of groundwater to Los Angeles.

The Southern Nevada Water Authority, a quasi municipal water agency representing Las Vegas and surrounding cities, proposes to remove about 198,000 acre-feet of groundwater per year from the groundwater aquifers of southeastern Nevada and western Utah. The water is to be transported to Las Vegas through a 300-mile pipeline 84 inches in diameter. Groundwater mining (mining is removal without replacement) will affect aquifers in Nevada, Utah, and California.

The scientists state: “The scientific consensus, based on a rich and diverse literature in groundwater hydrology developed over the past 50 years, demonstrates that that volume of water cannot be removed without substantially lowering the groundwater table.” And the inevitable consequence is that each acre-foot pumped to Las Vegas from the groundwater system is an acre-foot of groundwater that will no longer be available to support the livelihood of rural Nevadans and Utahans, the meadows, wetlands, and springs of the area, or the biodiversity dependent on those features.”

The Las Vegas metropolitan area used about 264 gallons per capita per day in 2006, distinguishing it as one of the largest water users in the dry western states. This pales compared to the 110-120 gallon per day level achieved by many other southwest desert American cities.

A study recently completed by Peter Gleick of the Pacific Institute states: “Our analysis suggests that continued implementation and expansion of the SNWA’s outdoor conservation programs and the development of new programs that target indoor water demand could reduce total and per capita water demand much more aggressively and reduce or defer future water supply investments” and these programs could “delay or eliminate the need for significant capital investment to expand conveyance and treatment infrastructure.”