News Feature | December 27, 2013

Las Vegas Groundwater Plan Hits Snag

By Sara Jerome


For a quarter-century, Las Vegas has been pursuing a plan to get more groundwater, but the effort hit a snag this month when a court questioned the bid. 

A Nevada judge rejected the state decision to allow Las Vegas "to draw water from rural valleys straddling the Nevada-Utah state line and pipe it south to slake the thirst of Sin City residents and tourists," the Associated Press reported

In a long-awaited decision, "Senior District Judge Robert Estes ruled that state water engineer Jason King did not adequately investigate whether the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s proposed groundwater scheme would pump these basins dry or conflict with existing water rights," the Salt Lake Tribune reported

The water mining proposed in the plan "is unfair to following generations of Nevadans and is not in the public interest,” the judge said in the Las Vegas Journal Review report

Under the proposal, Las Vegas would have sucked up significant amounts of water from the region. The city wanted permission "to pump up to 84,000 acre-feet of water a year from beneath four valleys. Water officials in Las Vegas say an acre-foot, or 326,000 gallons, can serve two households per year," the AP said. 

It is not the first time Las Vegas has run into trouble with this plan. The development marks the second time since 2009 that "a judge has stripped the authority of permission — at least temporarily — to siphon billions of gallons of groundwater a year from across eastern Nevada," the Review said.  

The judge asked the state engineer to recalculate how much Las Vegas can safely import without draining other basins or starting squabbles over water rights. 

What's next? Probably more litigation and potentially some big policy changes depending how the case turns out. 

The Review reported: "If the ruling survives an expected appeal to the Nevada Supreme could fundamentally change the way regulators review the authority’s controversial pipeline. The state engineer won’t be allowed to essentially 'rubber stamp' the project anymore."

According to the Southern Nevada Water Authority, about 10 percent of Southern Nevada's municipal water supply "comes from groundwater sources, which are instrumental in helping Southern Nevada meet peak summer water demands."

For more coverage of Las Vegas water infrastructure challenges, visit Water Online. 

Image credit: "Vegas in the desert," © 2012 Bert Kaufmann, used under an Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license:

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