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Nevada’s Groundwater Pipeline: Shortsighted and Unsustainable

Nevada’s Groundwater Pipeline: Shortsighted and Unsustainable

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There is something suspicious afoot in Nevada: a proposed multibillion-dollar water pipeline that Pat Mulroy, the general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA), has promoted for more than two decades. The proposed project would convey groundwater in Nevada via a 300-mile pipeline from the northeastern Lincoln and White Pine counties to Southern Nevada and the Las Vegas Valley.
There is something suspicious afoot in Nevada: a proposed multibillion-dollar water pipeline that Pat Mulroy, the general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA), has promoted for more than two decades. The proposed project would convey groundwater in Nevada via a 300-mile pipeline from the northeastern Lincoln and White Pine counties to Southern Nevada and the Las Vegas Valley.

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Published by: Food and Water Watch on Feb 15, 2012
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Las Vegans Cannot Afford the Pipeline
The SNWAs proposed pipeline is extraordinarily expen-sive, and Las Vegass economy is too fragile to withstand
burden. Due to debt costs, the pipeline is expected tonearly double monthly water bills for Las Vegas residents.Financing the project will increase typical bills by anestimated 86 percent.
This is worrisome, as expressed bya Las Vegas resident in the
Salt Lake Tribune
:Our concernhere, beyond the irreversible environmental damage, is thatworking families who are already having a very tough timemaking ends meet would be hit hard by massive increasesin their water bills.
Nevadas Groundwater Pipeline:
Shortsighted and Unsustainable
here is something suspicious afoot in Nevada: a proposed multibillion-dollar water pipelinethat Pat Mulroy, the general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA),has promoted for more than two decades.
The proposed project would convey groundwaterin Nevada via a 300-mile pipeline from the northeastern Lincoln and White Pine counties toSouthern Nevada and the Las Vegas Valley.
SNWA claims the pipeline is needed to meet future
Colorado River.
However, Las Vegass recovery from the recession has been slower than manycities,
and the exorbitantly costly pipeline could further stress Las Vegass fragile economy.SNWAs Groundwater Development Project is a shortsighted and unsustainable attempt tosupply Las Vegas with water.
Table 1:
Projected Water Bill Increases in the Las VegasWater District, Based on Accumulative AnnualRate Increases in the Next 14 Years
Typicalmonthlywater billTotalpercentincrease overcurrent billPercentincreasedue topipeline
[(Scenario 3 – Scenario 2)/ Current Bill]
Current Bill
(Jan. 2011)Residential $36.30Commercial $299.30
Scenario 1:
Existing DebtResidential $54.07
Commercial $445.88
Scenario 2:
Existing and Planned Major Construc-tion and Capital Projects Excluding the PipelineResidential $59.30
Commercial $488.93
Scenario 3:
Existing and Planned Major Construc-tion and Capital Projects Including the PipelineResidential $90.62
Commercial $747.23
Commodity Charges per 1,000 gallons of water:
Current bill = $0.30; Scenario 1 = $1.73; Scenario 2 = $2.15; Scenario 3 = $4.67.
 based on an average monthly water usage of 12,400 gallons.
based on an average monthly water usage of 100,000 gallons.
Hobbs, Ong & Associates and Public Financial Management, Inc. Ability to Finance Report to the Southern Nevada Water Authority.  June 27, 2011 at 37 to 39.
According to Hobbs, Ong & Associates and Public Finan-cial Management, Inc.s Ability to Finance Report to theSouthern Nevada Water Authority,
$7.3 billion in bonds
The interest payments on this debt would total$8.2 billion,
would cost approximately $15.5 billion.
This would direct-ly impact water rates, which are expected to increase from$1.18 per 1,000 gallons in 2011 to $4.67 per 1,000 gallonsin 2025.
To pay for the pipeline and other projects, the LasVegas Valleys residential and commercial customers wouldsee their water bills increase by 150 percent in the next 14years.
(See Table 1.)Las Vegass unemployment rate tripled between 2000 and2010, from 4.9 percent to 15.7 percent, and is still amongthe highest in the nation.
 A 2010 article in
The Economist 
 noted that at least 70 percent of Las Vegas homeownerswith mortgages owed banks more money than what theirhouses were worth.
Although a recent report found thatLas Vegass 2011 housing foreclosures were the lowest since2007, almost 2 million homes still entered foreclosure.
unsustainable and places too big of a burden on residents.
Nevada Will FaceEnvironmental Degradation
Since the 1950s, growing water demand and groundwa-ter depletion in Nevadas southern region have disruptedecosystems and caused the endangerment or extinction of several species.
If SNWA builds its proposed pipeline fromnortheastern Nevada, it could cause extensive environmen-tal damage and pose a risk to numerous threatened andendangered species.
 If the pipeline project is approved, the Great Basin Na-tional Park, which attracts roughly 80,000 tourists a year,
could be devastated. Pumping groundwater could lowerthe groundwater table and lessen the water supply availablefor animals and plants, including plants that are needed tokeep soil in place.
Phreatophytes are groundwater-depen-
die out, the likelihood of dust bowls increases.
The DustBowl of the 1930s was triggered largely by the loss of nativegrasses that were needed to keep soil in place.
With duststorms more rampant, tourism could suffer as skylines van-ish in the billowing dust clouds.
 Alternative Approaches toWater Resource Management
SNWAs proposed pipeline will likely have severe economicand environmental effects in the Las Vegas Valley and be-yond. To successfully and sustainably manage water resourc-es, there must be an emphasis on the sustainability of wateruse for current and future generations. While desalinationhas been discussed as a potential solution, it can be incred-ibly expensive. Furthermore, desalination can exacerbate airpollution problems, and it is very energy intensive.
sustainable for the residents of Las Vegas, nor environmen-tally viable for the state of Nevada. There are better andmore sustainable ways to manage Las Vegass water. Therecommendations in this section represent just a few of theoptions available to desert cities looking for a sustainable,long-term water solution.
Las Vegas is a sprawling city, and urban sprawl tends toresult in higher per capita water consumption rates and lessgroundwater recharge.
If built, the pipeline could furtherencourage this sprawl. The city should instead focus itsinvestments on smart-growth practices to reduce ongoingsprawl and conserve water resources.Meanwhile, efforts to privatize public lands around theLas Vegas Valley have prompted concern about the conse-quences of sprawling development.
Sprawling communi-ties tend to have higher per capita water use rates becauselarger land parcels need more water to maintain lawns.
 Data show that larger lots in the Las Vegas Valley correlateto greater household water consumption rates.
Thestateshould avoid permitting new developments that are land-and water-intensive, like the 42,000-acre Coyote Springsmaster-planned community, designed to include multiplegolf courses and more than 150,000 homes.
 If the SNWA pipeline is built, it could continue to fueleconomically and environmentally unsustainable growth inthe Las Vegas Valley. According to a report by the NationalAssociation of Local Government Environmental Profes-sionals, the Trust for Public Land and the ERG, Smartgrowth can be directly linked with water resource protec-tion.
Smart growth involves developing and reinvesting inexisting communities and preserves environmentally critical
a For more information, see Food & Water Watchs report
Desalination: An Oceanof Problems
areas and open space,
and it can be applied through ap-propriate land use and zoning regulations and developmentstandards.
Zoning helps local governments and planning agenciesregulate the use of land and land development. Traditional
each with their own standards for development; in contrast,performance zoning regulates development based upon theway each particular land use or type of development willaffect its surroundings.
A report by American Rivers, Natu-ral Resources Defense Council and Smart Growth Americasaid, For example,some communities have adoptedperformance zoning (a.k.a. cluster zoning or conser-vation zoning), which include (
) standards for openspace, development densities, narrower streets, impervioussurfaces, and other water-related considerations.
protect natural resources,
including water.
Las Vegans use more water per capita than most othersouthwestern cities, due largely to landscape irrigation.
-scapes, outdoor water usage could be cut by 40 percent.
 Rainwater harvesting, an ancient practice that has existedfor thousands of years, could be used to
pro-vide water for landscaping and help with natural groundwa-ter recovery.
Las Vegas receives 4.19 inches of precipita-tion annually. Based on this amount, a 1,000 square-footroof could collect roughly 2,000 to 2,500 gallons of waterinto a storage unit annually.
(See Table 2.)Harvesting rainwater in desert cities like Las Vegas is fea-
city to require the practice when it passed an ordinancein October 2008 ordering that after June 1, 2010, all newcommercial developments must come equipped with arainwater harvesting system that can meet at least half of the landscaping water demands.
Property owners canbecome active water conservation participants in their com-munity by using rain barrels or other rainwater harvestingequipment.
The SNWA provides a few indoor water conservationprograms targeted at single- and multi-family residences, in-
Never-theless, the Las Vegas Valley has a higher indoor per capita
States, the Las Vegas Valley captures and recovers virtuallyevery drop of water used indoors.
However, as noted by
treating and delivering water is energy intensive.
rapid population growth, and were able to reduce theirwater usage and mitigate water shortages through differ-
outreach, plumbing, and landscaping programs.
 Formal programs accompanied with incentives ought tobe developed and maintained by the SNWA, county andlocal agencies to reward and encourage water conservation.Incentives to cultivate participation can include subsidies
appliances, like washing machines, toilets and showerheads.Furthermore, plumbing codes could be updated to require
Table 2:
The Amount of Rainfall a 1,000Square-Foot Rooftop Could Harvest
MonthNormalPrecipitationin Las Vegas(inches)EstimatedGallons of WaterHarvested froma 1,000 Square-Foot Rooftop
0.54252.32 319.60
0.76355.11 449.81
0.44205.59 260.41
0.1570.09 88.78
0.1256.07 71.02
0.0732.71 41.43
0.40186.90 236.74
0.33154.19 195.31
0.25116.81 147.96
0.27126.16 159.80
0.36168.21 213.07
0.50233.63 295.93
Annual4.191957.78 2479.85
Formula based on Persyn, Russell A. et al. Rainwater 
 
2011 at 3.

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