Water Pipeline Proposal Has Many Skeptics - 8 News NOW

George Knapp, Investigative Reporter

Water Pipeline Proposal Has Many Skeptics

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In Ely and other rural towns, residents worry that the proposed water grab by Las Vegas will freeze their own hopes for economic growth. In Ely and other rural towns, residents worry that the proposed water grab by Las Vegas will freeze their own hopes for economic growth.

The proposed water pipeline from Las Vegas to White Pine County could easily rank as the largest public works projects in Nevada history with an estimated price tag in the billions of dollars.

Rural residents are mostly opposed because they worry about the environmental effects of the water grab, but others are opposed because they say there are better ways to get the job done.

In Ely and other rural towns, residents worry that the proposed water grab by Las Vegas will freeze their own hopes for economic growth. Water boss Pat Mulroy points out that groundwater belongs to the state, not to White Pine County, and it should flow to where it's needed most.

"To call this water theft is a stretch. This is Nevadans taking care of Nevadans. Everyone in Nevada benefits from the taxes from southern Nevada," Pat Mulroy of Southern Nevada Water Authority says.

But is a massive pipeline system that will cost at least $2 billion the best way to go?

"It's the largest public works project in the history of Nevada and people should become more curious about it," Mark Bird, a former federal water planner, says.

Former federal water planner Mark Bird is a regular at water board meetings, but his suggestions for alternatives to the pipeline haven't made much of a dent. Bird thinks the real cost of the pipeline could be many times what the public has been told, financially and environmentally, and he's outlined 12 other ideas to consider. One is to build desalting plants to convert ocean water. It's no longer a futuristic dream.

"There are over 10,000 desalting plants now. There are at least two new techniques which could reduce costs by 75 percent and it's better quality water," Bird says.

California has approved the construction of nearly a dozen of these plants, and Las Vegas water officials agree that Nevada could supplement its supply by building such plants, then trading the water to California for a share of water from the Colorado River. But, they say, that's far off in the future, perhaps 75 years away. Bird disagrees and says similar plants are being built now.

Bird also points to California's Imperial Valley, which gets ten times as much river water as the entire state of Nevada, and at one-tenth the cost of our water. If Las Vegas can't go to court to get a piece of it, why not buy it, he suggests?

Another idea - and one supported by Governor Kenny Guinn - is cloud seeding programs to generate more snowfall in the Rocky Mountains, which would put more water into Lake Mead. If that seems like pie in the sky, Bird says, there's another idea that's been proven to work---water conservation. Las Vegas got a late start at conservation and still has a long way to go, he says, although political leaders seem reluctant to discuss anything that sounds like a control on growth.

"Water conservation locally is an area where significant improvement could be made and that buys time to pursue other alternatives.

Pat Mulroy has touted studies commissioned by the water authority that predict that controls on Las Vegas growth would destroy the entire Nevada economy. In other words, we need to keep growing. But she adds, we need the pipeline just to maintain the status quo.

"It's not a question of growth. Whether you're a new or old resident, everybody who lives here today has to have a reliable water supply" Mulroy says.

Something that could be accomplished, Mark Bird says, with a slower growth rate and more conservation, but without a multi billion-dollar pipeline.

A decision by the state engineer about whether to allow the piping of water from White Pine County to Las Vegas is not expected until the end of this year, at the earliest. Pat Mulroy predicts it would take ten years to build the pipeline and start the water flowing.

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

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