[Marxism] Wasting water

Louis Proyect 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 
century ago.

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 
500 years.

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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