[Marxism] Wasting water
lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Jun 21 08:10:28 MDT 2004
LA Times, June 21, 2004
Thirsty Las Vegas Eyes a Refuge's Water
Hydrologists worry that tapping aquifer beneath a bighorn sanctuary
could threaten rare wildlife.
By Bettina Boxall, Times Staff Writer
DESERT NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE, Nev. — Water is not what comes to mind
in this sun-bleached landscape of crumpled mountains and creosote-coated
basins. But that's what Las Vegas thinks of when it glances across its
northern border at this sprawling bighorn sheep refuge, the largest
federal wildlife sanctuary in the lower 48 states.
The city of water-themed casinos and ever-expanding subdivisions is
looking here to begin a massive pumping project that would reach deep
into rural Nevada to tap an ancient aquifer running from western Utah to
Death Valley National Park in eastern California.
In Nevada's scrappy outback, the plans have prompted comparisons to
Owens Valley, Los Angeles' infamous eastern Sierra water grab of a
Federal hydrologists worry that the first round of pumping, which if
approved by the state engineer could be in operation by 2007, could
starve springs on public lands. They are concerned not just for this
place but for several other national wildlife refuges in southern Nevada
that provide havens for endangered species found nowhere else in the world.
In Death Valley and surrounding Inyo County, Calif., officials believe
the pumping could jeopardize water supplies. "There's no doubt the
aquifer will be drawn down. It's a question of magnitude and where it
will occur," said Death Valley hydrologist Terry Fisk. "In our view, the
withdrawal of water … could potentially harm our senior water rights."
The Southern Nevada Water Authority, the agency that manages the
region's water supplies, insists the pumping will have minimal, if any,
effect. If they're wrong, authority officials say, they'll turn off the
offending pumps. "We've made a commitment if one of our wells causes
environmental degradation, we'll shut it off," said Pat Mulroy, the
agency's general manager.
The groundwater development is just one of several fronts her agency is
pursuing as it hunts for more water for fast-growing Las Vegas, which
gets most of its municipal supply from the fully claimed Colorado River,
now in the grip of what some experts say might be the worst drought in
The authority has obtained rights to divert water from the Virgin River
northeast of Las Vegas, expressed interest in buying irrigation water
from other states and lobbied the federal government for a bigger share
of the Colorado. "Something has to give. Southern Nevada is the economic
engine in the state of Nevada," said Mulroy, who is known in
Southwestern water circles for her combative style.
In the last year, regional water demand dropped thanks to drought
measures, reversing a more than decade-long trend when water use jumped
from about 300,000 acre-feet to more than 500,000 acre-feet. (An
acre-foot is the amount of water that would cover 1 acre to a depth of 1
foot. One acre-foot is enough to supply two average homes for a year.)
But every month, the Las Vegas metropolitan area continues to grow by
another 3,000 to 4,000 people. The groundwater system that the authority
is proposing to meet new demand would take a decade to fully develop and
could eventually deliver enough water to supply more than 300,000 homes.
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