Rural Residents Battle Southern Nevada Water Grab - 8 News NOW

George Knapp, Investigative Reporter

Rural Residents Battle Southern Nevada Water Grab

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Residents of rural Nevada know they face long odds in their effort to thwart a proposed water grab by southern Nevada. Las Vegas has money and political power, but the rural residents think they have the truth on their side, and, so far, they refuse to back down or be bought off.

So how are they fighting back?

To some, the 2 million square mile Great Basin is just desert sand and a sea of sagebrush. But from atop Wheeler Peak, the crown jewel of Nevada's Great Basin National Park, a different view is evident.

The park is home to bristlecone pines, the oldest trees on earth, along with many other plant and animal species few of us ever see in the wild. For the last 10,000 years, the area has been the home to native cultures.

"My ancestors were able to live a sustainable lifestyle on the land for quite some time. Las Vegas seems to want to sustain unsustainable growth," Rick Spilsbury, a Western Shoshone blogger, says.

That, in a nutshell, is how White Pine residents like Rick Spilsbury view the David versus Goliath battle. The Southern Nevada Water Authority has proposed a 200 mile pipeline to suck water out of valleys on both sides of the Great Basin National Park so that Las Vegas can continue its relentless growth.

Rural residents know that it's only been in the last few years that Las Vegas paid any attention at all to water conservation, and that fountains, lawns, pools, and man-made lakes have multiplied with few restrictions. Now, Las Vegas wants White Pine's water, hundreds of thousands of acres, to allow for even more sprawl.

"I don't like the idea of my place drying up for another condo or casino in Las Vegas," Bannon Humphries, a Spring Valley rancher, says.

"I think every person up there is against it. I haven't spoken to one person who is even quiet about it," Spilsbury says.

Rick Spilsbury was born in Las Vegas and only left when the growth became too much. He returned to his ancestral lands in time to learn the Las Vegas growth had caught up to him in the form of the water grab.

Spilsbury, an engineer, is one of many rurals who is fighting back with guerilla tactics. He's established an Internet blog and uses it to reach out to a larger audience. In the water hearings underway in Carson City, Las Vegas muscle is already evident. Lawyers, casino owners, and union bosses say they are in favor of the $2 billion pipeline.

Thursday night at 11 p.m., I-Team reporters George Knapp and Mark Sayre will report on Eyewitness News the latest developments in the water fight and on some alternative ideas that haven't received much attention.

The political power is such that the federal agencies that opposed the plan for fear it would dry up irreplaceable resources, including the national park, capitulated on the day the hearings began. The rurals are fighting back anyway they can.

"It's not just our water. It's our future, and it's the future of every plant an animal out here," Margaret Pense of Great Basin Art Store says.

In the town of Baker, the locals raise gas money for their fight by selling semi-provocative tee shirts - ‘Keep Your Pipes Out Of My Aquifer'. Also, anyone from Las Vegas willing to immediately attach this bumper sticker gets one for free.

"A lot of people from Las Vegas who come up here say I don't want more traffic. I don't want to increase my drive time. The roads are too crowded. I don't want to wait 10 hours in an emergency room. I don't want any more smog. I haven't met too many people who go, "oh, it's a good idea." In fact, I haven't met any," Pense says.

The Great Basin Water Network has formed its own website where it makes the case against the water grab. Residents understand that bumper stickers and bloggers won't stop the Las Vegas juggernaut. Most think they will lose but vow to fight on. What do they think of the promises that if the environment is harmed, Las Vegas will turn off the spigot to the 2 billion dollar pipeline?

"No one in really believes it. Nobody," Spilsbury says.

"Absolutely not. No. Business first. Business first," Pense says.

Send your feedback to Investigative Reporter George Knapp at gknapp@klastv.com

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