Las Vegas’ water supply comes primarily from stored Colorado River water in Lake Mead. With all the demand on the river nowadays the metroplex is looking to mine groundwater north and east of the Las Vegas Valley to shore up supplies. They lost a round in court last week. Here’s a report from Hannah Holm writing for the Glenwood Springs Post Independent. Here’s an excerpt:
In September, SNWA senior deputy general manager John Entsminger told the crowd at the Colorado River District’s annual seminar that the long-term plan was to prepare for reduced availability of Colorado River water in part by developing new sources of water from outside the river basin. A centerpiece of this plan was to develop a pipeline to bring 84,000-acre-feet per year of groundwater from the Spring, Cave, Delamar and Dry Lake valleys in Northern Nevada down to the Las Vegas metro area. These valleys lie within the Great Basin, which swallows its runoff underground and evaporates it from vast salt pans rather than sending it towards the Pacific via rivers.
The Nevada State Engineer granted the SNWA rights to the groundwater in the northern valleys in 2012, but on Dec. 12, the Salt Lake Tribune reported that a Nevada state judge had invalidated the state engineer’s decision to grant the rights. The ruling claimed that in deciding to grant the rights, the state engineer failed to adequately investigate the potential impact to existing water rights and the environment. Lawyers for the ranchers and environmentalists in the “donor” valleys who had fought the pipeline project, as well as residents Utah’s neighboring Snake Valley, cheered the ruling.
I doubt that we’ve heard the end of the story on this controversy, and it bears watching. Despite the fact that Las Vegas exerts a relatively small demand on the Colorado River, its predicament could still have repercussions here in Colorado. A number of analysts have noted that no matter what the “law of the river” says, it is unlikely that a city of 2 million people will have its tap turned off. Keeping the tap on could require increased releases from Lake Powell, with domino effects upstream for water use in Colorado. Also, the way competing demands for water between urban users, agriculture and the environment are dealt with in Nevada could foreshadow how similar tensions are dealt with here.
— Henry Brean (@RefriedBrean) December 20, 2013