Pumping drew down water table, posed threat to Moapa Dace, state finds

Local News

LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Century-old water rights, complex underground aquifers and a tiny fish spelled doom for the plan to pipe rural water to fuel Las Vegas growth.

A detailed report from the State Engineer Tim Wilson describes years of tests and observations that show the water table reacting as pumping took place far away in areas that weren’t considered connected.

The Southern Nevada Water Authority canceled the plan in May, ending a 30-year effort amid legal battles.

The State Engineer’s analysis determined that pumping would draw down groundwater and drain the life out of springs that feed the habitat of the Moapa Dace, an endangered fish that lives only in springs in the Muddy River area northeast of Las Vegas.

Increased pumping would also violate 1920 agreements allocating water rights if those obligations could not be met.

The report concludes that the Lower White River Flow Hydrographic Basin cannot be provide more than 8,000 acre-feet each year. An acre foot is defined as the amount of water needed to cover one acre of surface area to a depth of one foot — or about 325,851 gallons.

The report also lays out a new definition for the aquifer, which will now consist of seven additional geographic areas in Clark County and Lincoln County.

That new definition could affect decisions on growth for years to come.

“This order may be the death knell for Coyote Springs,” said Patrick Donnelly, Nevada state director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Greedy real estate developers have no business building subdivisions in the middle of the desert, and now they have no water to do it with.”

“We’re pleased that the state engineer recognizes that these critical groundwater supplies must be protected to save the Moapa dace from extinction,” Donnelly said. “There’s still too much groundwater pumping, and further reductions are necessary to ensure long-term conservation and recovery.”

The dace has been protected under the Endangered Species Act since 1967, Donnelly said.

The report indicates that climate is also a factor in the aquifer’s health, and left open the possibility that pumping restrictions could be adjusted.

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