For Immediate Release, December 27, 2012
Contact: Rob Mrowka, (702) 249-5821 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Federal Decision on Nevada Pipeline Will Push Dozens of Species Toward Extinction
LAS VEGAS— The Bureau of Land Management today approved a pipeline right-of-way for the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s “groundwater development project,” setting in motion a project that will severely imperil dozens of species and likely send many to extinction. The project envisions siphoning more than 27.4 billion gallons of groundwater per year from at least four valleys in central Nevada and pumping it over 250 miles to the Las Vegas Valley.
“The federal government’s own scientists are confirming this Las Vegas water project would be an epic environmental disaster,” said Rob Mrowka, a Nevada-based ecologist with the Center for Biological Diversity, which works to promote sensible water use and protect endangered species across the West. “It’s really no exaggeration to say that the natural, cultural and social heritage of central Nevada is at grave risk from this project.”
The Center and others will be litigating the decision, Mrowka said, which violates several environmental laws, including the Endangered Species Act, National Environmental Policy Act, Federal Land Policy and Management Act and Clean Air Act.
The project’s “environmental impact statement” reveals that more than 137,000 acres of wildlife habitat will be permanently destroyed or changed because of the lowering of groundwater tables — by up to 200 feet in many areas. This will drive declines in species like mule deer, Rocky Mountain elk, sage grouse and Bonneville cutthroat trout. At most urgent risk will be species associated with the springs and wetlands that will dry up as the water beneath them is sucked away.
“Some of Nevada’s rarest, most unique species rely on wetlands and springs,” said Mrowka. “They’ve evolved over tens of thousands of years in response to isolation and fragmentation of habitat that occurred after ice ages. The Las Vegas water grab could undo all that and drive them extinct in the blink of an eye.”
Scientific research reveals that many of these species are often found in only one or two springs on Earth. As the springs are dewatered and flows are altered and eventually stopped, at least 25 species of Great Basin springsnails will be pushed to, or over, the brink of extinction. Also affected will be 14 species of desert fish, including the Moapa dace and White River springfish; frogs and toads will fare little better, with four species severely threatened by the dewatering.
Other impacts from the project, disclosed in the BLM’s impact statement today, include ground-level subsidence in excess of five feet on more than 240 square miles, as well as tens of thousands of tons of new dust generated from dewatered and denuded lands.
The impact statement envisions a multilayered scheme of monitoring to detect impacts, followed by mitigation measures to reduce the impacts. This approach is flawed in several ways. First, it places the water authority in the driver’s seat to do the monitoring and then faithfully report and address it — a scenario unlikely to produce useful results. Second, it assumes that any observed impacts can be successfully addressed, while sound science suggests that the lag time between pumping and observation of the impact makes this virtually impossible.
Finally, it assumes that the water authority will have adequate funds available to conduct the monitoring and successfully mitigate damage. Experiences from a similar situation in the Owens Valley of California reveal that tens of millions of dollars are spent annually to mitigate just one problem: dust. “Given the over $15.5 billion price tag of just constructing and financing the pipe, promises to mitigate the impacts are frankly laughable,” Mrowka said.
Elected officials on the authority’s board of directors can still stop the foolhardy project by denying the authority’s request to initiate it.
“This is a critical time for the Southern Nevada Water Authority, its board and all elected officials to take action to put the brakes on this disastrous and unneeded project,” said Mrowka. “There’s still time for the authority to table the project and begin the much-needed dialogue with the community on better options for meeting the Las Vegas Valley’s future water needs — chief among them, rational growth management.”
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 450,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.