Posted on | August 19, 2010 | 1 Comment
FOLLOWING a series of damning court decisions that vacated almost 80,000 acre feet a year of groundwater awards to Las Vegas from four valleys in rural Nevada, the State Engineer has published a tentative schedule to re-notice and re-hear the cases. If the brisk timeline is kept, the decisions over whether or not to tap the Great Basin Aquifer to slake Las Vegas could come as early as mid-February 2012.
Under the new schedule, notices of the applications by Las Vegas for permission to tap rural groundwater over thousands of square miles will be published in regional Nevadan newspapers in November. The period in which affected parties may lodge legal protests entitling them to participate in the hearings will close in late December.
The requirement to re-hear the cases stemming from 1989 applications by Las Vegas comes at a time that Nevada is in an unprecedented budget crisis. To accomplish hearings for an equally unprecedented proposed inter-basin water transfer within the legal time-frame of one year within the close of protests, the engineer suggests foregoing pre-hearing conferences — sessions in which both sides argue as to what evidence will be admissible. For example, the question of whether or not the impacts of groundwater pumping and desertification on air quality would be admissible during the hearings would traditionally be decided at a pre-hearing conference. If you live down-wind of pumping, this is an important ruling.
Rather, applicants and protestants are expected to submit estimates of the time they will need to make their cases by January 28, 2011.
Evidentiary exchanges are to take place between April and June 2011. The hearings themselves are currently planned for the weeks of July 18-22, July 25-29, August 1-5, August 22-26, August 29-September 2 and September 5-9.
The decision to re-notice and re-hear cases comes on the heels of an October 2009 Nevada district court decision in which the recharge estimates for three basins — Dry Lake, Delamar and Cave valleys — were found to be baseless and potentially catastrophic in terms of over-drafting the desert aquifer. Awards of 18,755 acre feet-a-year of groundwater, enough to supply more than 37,000 families in Las Vegas from all but bone dry desert, were voided. A further Nevada Supreme Court opinion in January 2010 found that a delay of more than a decade in staging hearings for applications dating back to 1989 had violated the due process rights of the protestants. The Supreme Court decision put back in play a 60,000 acre feet-a-year award, enough for 120,000 Las Vegas households, from the relatively lush northern basin Spring Valley.
While the schedule posted by the State Engineer meets due process requirements to do with timeliness of hearings, there is no indication that the hearings themselves will be equal to the originals, and there are already some signs that they may not be. “There is no budget to pay for hearing forums that charge a fee,” reads the engineer’s announcement today, “there are no funds for cameramen to broadcast the hearing over the internet, there are minimal travel funds, and the budget for transcripts is limited.”
A further letter to the Southern Nevada Water Authority spells out requirements for it to supply water budgets for the target basins. It is not clear if the authority will need to present controversial pumping models predicting wide-spread damage by the proposed pumping that were withheld from hearings in the past.
More will be posted as it is known on whether or not stipulated agreements struck as part of now-voided decisions between the Las Vegas water prospectors and Interior agencies will hold under the new hearings schedule, or whether the National Park Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Indian Affairs will be again protesting the applications.
The nearly 300-mile-long pipeline route runs through a succession of protected wilderness and wildlife preservation areas to the foot of Nevada’s only national park. Underground flow systems in the Dry Lake, Delamar and Cave Valley region may also impact the Colorado River. A final Environmental Impact Report being managed by the Bureau of Land Management is further outstanding.
UPDATE 8/20/2010: The State Engineer of Nevada has created a new website dedicated to the rehearing of the SNWA applications in Spring, Cave, Dry Lake and Delamar valleys.
Some selected posts put up previously on the Las Vegas pipeline court cases:
For complete background on the project, go to the Las Vegas Sun five-part series Satiating a booming city. Part one profiles Vegas and gaming power-broker Richard Bunker, part two his protege and Vegas water manager Pat Mulroy, part three looks at the land deals made possible by the senator from Las Vegas Harry Reid, part four meets Vegas’s rural conscience Dean Baker and part five finds a whistle blower who refuses to bow to the Vegas dream.