Water grab fails court test

In scathing language, a state court judge has overturned the state water engineer's approval of the planned transfer of water in eastern Nevada and western Utah to southern Nevada to feed growth.

Judge Robert Estes of the Seventh Judicial Court of Nevada called the decision by State Engineer Jason King to approve the transfer “subjective, unscientific, arbitrary and capricious,” and “not in the public interest.”

To pass muster, the water engineer must recalculate available water to guarantee “the basin will reach equilibrium between discharge and recharge within a reasonable time.” Estes also said King must include the impact on Utah territory in his calculations.

The judge seemed to think King's approval decision was uncooked and that he had become too cozy with the Southern Nevada Water Authority, writing that the water engineer had effectively “relinquished his responsibilities” to SNWA.

“There are no objective standards to determine when mitigation will be required and implemented,” Estes wrote. “The engineer has listed what mitigation efforts can possibly be made, i.e., stop pumping, modifying pumping, change location of pumps, drill new wells … but does not cite objective standards of when mitigation is necessary.”

“That is exactly the kind of analysis needed,” the Deseret News—owned by the Mormon Church—editorialized in Salt Lake City. “As Utah officials and environmentalists have been saying for years, the results of such pumping could be disastrous. Utah's deserts contain fragile plant species that keep the soil in place. This allows ranching to thrive while also sustaining wildlife that feed on the plants. Drain water from beneath these plants and they might die, leading to dust storms and destroying the area's economy..”