Southern Nevada Water Authority vs. Great Basin. Water wars

The Southern Nevada Water Authority is relentless about finding new sources of water. Really relentless. They once floated an idea to build a pipeline from the Great Lakes to Vegas. The Great Lakes states responded by passing a joint pact that essentially said “over our dead bodies” will a pipeline happen. Even the 800 lb. gorilla of Western water, the Metropolitan Water District of southern California gets twitchy trying to figure out what SNWA will do next.

Sometimes it’s almost comical. SNWA has been trying to build a pipeline from the rural Great Basin in Nevada for decades. A district court recently appeared to rule against SNWA, except the state engineer is appealing his own ruling, and Steve Sisolak, Democratic candidate for governor and SNWA board meeting, says he opposes the pipeline yet voted to appeal the ruling. I trust this clarifies things!

The head of the SNWA says conservation is the first priority. And indeed Vegas is a world leader in conservation, recycling, and reusing water, and uses 5% of Nevada water despite having 70% of the population. The second priority is desalination. Say what? Desal in a desert? Not exactly, the plan is to build desal plants on the Pacific coast then take water allocated to that area in return. The third priority is pipelines, like from the Great Basin. Like I said, relentless.

In 2015, opponents of the pipeline successfully convinced a District Court judge in White Pine County to order the state engineer to reconsider granting pumping rights to the water authority. In August, the state engineer issued his ruling, pursuant to the judge’s order, and denied several rights to the water authority, something that opponents cheered as effectively killing the project.

But it didn’t. The state engineer argued, in a complicated ruling, that the district court erred in its decision, forcing to use a hydrologic methodology that had not previously been used in Nevada water law. As a result, the state engineer said he would appeal his own ruling to deny the rights.

The water authority’s board voted today to appeal that same ruling.