I-Team: Strong Stand Taken Against Water Authority - 8 News NOW

George Knapp, Chief Investigative Reporter

I-Team: Strong Stand Taken Against Water Authority

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For Tuesday's meeting, the SNWA didn't even show up, in part because it knew what was coming. For Tuesday's meeting, the SNWA didn't even show up, in part because it knew what was coming.
Baker has already seen the water table drop under his property and knows a massive pumping program would suck his valley dry. Baker has already seen the water table drop under his property and knows a massive pumping program would suck his valley dry.

Nevada's agriculture industry took a strong stand Tuesday against a proposed water importation plan that would take billions of gallons of groundwater out of rural valleys. The state agriculture commission approved a policy making the protection of water its highest priority.

This represents a first -- the first time a state agency has come out, essentially in opposition to the so-called water grab. Up to this point, other governments have fallen into line behind the Southern Nevada Water Authority. For Tuesday's meeting, the SNWA didn't even show up, in part because it knew what was coming.

"Is this sort of a line in the sand? I guess you could call it that," said Tony Lesperance, Director of the Nevada Department of Agriculture.

The policy statement crafted by Lesperance and unanimously approved by the Board of Agriculture stops just short of declaring all out opposition to the proposed water pipeline, but it might as well have.

Although several commissioners hail from rural areas and represent livestock and farming interests, they are savvy businessmen who say their industry simply can't survive if Las Vegas takes the water from under their feet, especially since SNWA itself has identified the targeted areas as already being in the grips of a relentless drought.

The last time rancher Dean Baker attended a meeting of the commission, he was present to lobby for a tough stand against the water grab. This time, he attended as a member of the board and his message was the same, "I cannot believe there is anything right about drying up the rest of the state, which I believe is the general problem of putting the pipeline."

Baker and his sprawling ranch are in the crosshairs of SNWA's multibillion dollar plans. He and other ranchers chuckle at the statements by SNWA that water officials from Las Vegas can do a better job of managing the land than ranchers like himself, who've spent their entire lives living off it.

Baker has already seen the water table drop under his property and knows a massive pumping program would suck his valley dry.

Neighboring sheep rancher Hank Vogler is also now on the agriculture board and has long been a vocal critic of the pipeline plan and does not want the rural valleys to be sacrificed so Las Vegas can grow some more.

"We're not saying we're against Clark County, as it can be misconstrued later. We're just saying let's throw the bricks on here and take a real hard look at this. If we're going to destroy the 16 rural counties of Nevada for the engine of Clark County, I don't think the people of Clark County want that either," he said.

Lesperance says the protection of water for agriculture is now the top priority of his department. That policy is spelled out in a general statement adopted by the board, the first of its kind in Nevada.

Lesperance thinks the pipeline plan is not only going to be a disaster for rural counties, but an expensive and short sighted debacle for Las Vegas as well, "What do you do when there is no more water in northern Nevada? Your growth can't be based on only 20 years of water. If you build it, what happens in 20 years? It will be the same as today."

The water authority has considerable clout so it's a big deal for a state commission to take a strong stand like this. SNWA usually has its lobbyist Joe Guild attend these board meetings, but not this one.

As a side note, Mr. Guild's spending habits on behalf of the water authority were recently the focus of I-Team reports.

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