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Water Authority to fight ruling that could sink pipeline plan from rural Nevada

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The Southern Nevada Water Authority board voted unanimously Thursday to appeal a ruling from the State Engineer, Nevada’s top water official, that could derail a proposed pipeline to pump groundwater from rural eastern Nevada to Las Vegas.

The August 17 ruling from Jason King rescinds an earlier approval after a judge ordered him to reconsider his decision.

The backdrop of today’s special SNWA board meeting, called to meet a 30-day deadline for an appeal, is Lake Mead, Southern Nevada’s principal water source. It continues to fall as the West suffers through a crippling drought.

“This is much bigger than one project or another – this is about water law and the decision that was made,” says SNWA Board Chair and Clark County Commissioner Marilyn Kirkpatrick regarding today’s vote to appeal.

Lake Mead sits today just short of 1079 feet; it dropped a quarter-inch overnight, with a water level now 150 feet below what’s considered a “full pool.”

If it falls about 4 more feet, officials could declare a shortage and cut back the amount of water we can take, which is why Thursday's meeting was important.

The proposal to pump water from big chunks of Lincoln and White Pine counties is decades old.

“I believe that it is prudent to keep this project within our portfolio, even though I don't believe our community will have to have a serious discussion about whether or not to build the project for decades to come,” says John Entsminger, the general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

The pipeline is very controversial. Conservationists hate it.

“Ultimately the Southern Nevada Water Authority has been pursuing this project for 29 years and there was little reason to think they would stop today,” says Patrick Donnelly, the Nevada state director for the Center for Biological Diversity. “This pipeline would result in a decimation of ecosystems and a dewatering of resources used by ranchers, farmers and communities.”

Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak sits on the Water Authority and he doesn't like the pipeline either.

“I've long advocated for conservation, which we've made great inroads on conservation. I think that desalination is a much better use of our resources than a pipeline,” Sisolak says, looking toward the promise of the Pacific ocean as a partial solution to our continued drought. “There’s a limitless supply basically of seawater, of ocean water, that can be desalinated and used,” he told me.

In the end, Sisolak voted to appeal because he says the issue needs to be decided by a court, or the legislature.

Sisolak is running for governor, and different parts of the state view the issue differently.

His message: “I think that the south should know that I’m well concerned about our long-term water supply, and the north should know that I’m well concerned about our long-term water supply, and the rurals should feel the same way,” Sisolak says.

In the meantime, we use every ounce of lake mead we can.

The so-called "third straw" is pulling water in from deeper.

Our conservation, which can always improve--is pretty good.

We've conserved so much, we don't use all of our Lake Mead allotment.

The good news is even if our allotment gets cut, we won't feel it.

Yet.

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