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Decision Expected on NV-Utah Water Agreement: Monitoring in Question

January 25, 2010

LAS VEGAS - The agreement between Nevada and Utah for a 50-50 split of Snake Valley groundwater could be ratified any day now, but there are concerns about the monitoring intended to protect the water supply. Congress requires the two states to come to agreement about how to divide the water before any can be allocated to the 300-mile Las Vegas Water Pipeline.

Hydrologist John Bredehoeft, a veteran of more than three decades with the U.S. Geological Survey, says officials in Nevada and Utah are relying on monitoring to protect the ground water supply, but he says there are so many factors effecting water drawdown in the Snake River valley that it will be virtually impossible for the plan to work.

"Is the problem some farmer like Dean Baker pumping close to the springs, or is it the Las Vegas water pipeline, or is it the climate? And, believe me, there'll be people on every side of that issue."

Earlier this month, Utah Governor Gary Herbert said he was just waiting for his state's Department of Natural Resources to give their approval and Utah would be ready to go forward. Natural Resources officials in Nevada have already indicated they would approve the equal split of the estimated 108,000 acre feet of water.

Reno Hydrologist Tom Meyers says he agrees with Bredehoeft's concern. Meyers is worried that it could take officials decades to detect a drop in the water table in the Snake Valley, and at that point, even if all the pumping were stopped, the drawdown would continue for decades.

"By the time you catch an impact, even if you stop pumping, those impacts continue to expand for a period of time. Monitoring, unless perfectly designed, can very easily miss the impacts, not predict them soon enough, or otherwise fail."

Bredehoeft conducted a simulation that suggested it would take 25 years after pumping stops for the groundwater to partially recover and 450 years to fully recover. Both he and Meyers are consultants for the Great Basin Water Network, which opposes the Las Vegas pipeline.

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - NV