Decades-long campaign forces Nevada Board to kill huge Las Vegas groundwater pipeline

Spring Valley, Nevada, an area that would've been affected by Southern Nevada Water Authority’s proposed pipeline project. Photo credit: Patrick Donnelly/Center for Biological Diversity
Spring Valley, Nevada, an area that would’ve been affected by Southern Nevada Water Authority’s proposed pipeline project. Photo credit: Patrick Donnelly/Center for Biological Diversity

by Meteor staff

The Center for Biological Diversity announced late last week that a 31-year struggle to stop a massive groundwater pipeline development came to a stunning conclusion when the Southern Nevada Water Authority board voted to terminate permitting and end its pursuit of the project.

“This is truly historic. People who love rural Nevada and its precious wildlife can breathe a sigh of relief now that this destructive pipeline plan is dead,” said Patrick Donnelly, Nevada state director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This is a fight passed from parent to child, from one generation of activists to the next. Sometimes David beats Goliath.”

The water authority proposed pumping 28 billion gallons of groundwater every year from aquifers in remote valleys in eastern Nevada and piping it 300 miles to Las Vegas to fill swimming pools and water golf courses. The project threatened to dry up hundreds of springs and thousands of acres of wetlands, including in two national park units and several national wildlife refuges. Some of Nevada’s rarest species rely on those public lands.

The $15 billion pipeline project catalyzed a coalition of environmentalists, ranchers, rural counties and Native American tribes who mobilized a multigenerational political and legal campaign against the water grab.

The water authority first applied for water rights in these remote valleys in 1989. The coalition began a series of lawsuits in both state and federal court, showing that the project would harm water-rights holders, Great Basin National Park, traditional Western Shoshone sacred sites and hundreds of species.

In 2017 the Center won a victory in federal court when a judge rejected the Bureau of Land Management’s environmental impact statement for the pipeline right-of-way. The judge said the BLM failed to show how the water authority would compensate for significant losses to wetlands and wildlife habitat from the project. In 2013, as the result of litigation spearheaded by the Great Basin Water Network, a Nevada state court ruled that the project would harm water-rights holders and be detrimental to the public interest.

Gov. Steve Sisolak campaigned on an anti-pipeline platform in his 2018 gubernatorial race. Clark County Commissioner Justin Jones, a water authority board member, has been vocal about his opposition to the pipeline. Jones cast a decisive vote in today’s decision.

“Commissioner Jones and Gov. Sisolak showed tremendous political courage in helping to stop this destructive project,” said Donnelly. “This victory is also due to the tireless work of activists, the relentless advocacy of the Western Shoshone and Goshute peoples, and the public’s love for wild places and wildlife.”

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