Pining for water

The butting of heads that constantly plays out between those who want to develop the land and those who want to protect it has been more intense lately. Just in the last year, we’ve seen heated battles over Ballardini Ranch and Tierra Del Sol and also witnessed that embarrassing fracas where the Regional Planning Governing Board pantsed the Regional Planning Commission and told it not to come back until it delivered the “right vote” for the powerful Jaksicks, who want to develop Winnemucca Ranch. All these decisions and actions, weighty as they were, are relative chump change compared to the new battle that looms.

This Monday the 11th, the state water engineer will begin public hearings on the “Vegas water grab.” The Southern Nevada Water Authority wants to build a pipeline that would eventually bring 200,000 acre feet of water from White Pine and Lincoln counties to Las Vegas, which has managed to grow its way right out of its allotment of Colorado River water. In other words, the tumor needs more blood, and it’s lookin’ northward.

Unfortunately for Vegas, the good folks of White Pine County (county seat—Ely) aren’t all that enthusiastic about the idea. Among other objections, they keep citing the brutal example of Los Angeles Water and Power, and how it basically turned the thriving Owens Valley into a parched sump back in the ’30s and ’40s. The White Piners have mustered up a fair amount of resistance, and presto, you’ve got yourself your classic city vs. rural water hassle. It’s easy to imagine that the “decider” in this case, the state water engineer, may begin to notice some heat coming from the general vicinity of his seat. In fact, that seat began to glow recently after the queen of the S.N.W.A., Pat Mulroy, remarked that if the state engineer didn’t make the right call, well, the governor just might have to get someone in there who will. Good ole Pat. Subtle as a SWAT team entrance.

I’m not saying there isn’t a certain amount of water from the two counties that couldn’t be shipped safely to Vegas. There could be a win/win answer here. I am saying that I trust Vegas to take the time to do the proper environmental and hydrological research to find that magic number about as much as I trust Exxon to build an environmentally sensitive drilling facility in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge.

Every time I drive through White Pine County, I’m completely knocked out by its three great “S” valleys: Steptoe, Spring and Snake. Majestic and mighty valleys loaded with water, forests and wildlife that are without peer in the Great Basin. In the hearings about to ensue, the state water engineer has to remember that his No. 1 priority is not the feeding of the tumor but the preservation of the land and the lifestyles of those who are being threatened by the tumor. To do that, he may need to fortify his heat shield a bit.