Utah can’t afford to export water

By By John Stafford

By John Stafford

The Southern Nevada Water Authority recently had its environmentally unconscious plans foiled by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. The water authority was looking to pump billions of gallons of Utah water into Great Basin agricultural land, and representatives have voiced frustration about the delays.

The BLM might be notoriously slow, but it made the right decision on this one for the time being. The fact of the matter is that the SNWA never presented a plan to show that the water pipeline could minimize its environmental impact. An acre foot is about 327,000 gallons, which means the SNWA is planning to take more than 16.3 billion gallons of water per year from this region.

The effect would be significant.

All vegetation with roots that cannot reach the lowered water table would be killed off and the soil would have almost nothing to hold it in place. Remember the dust bowl? Apparently the SNWA doesn’t.

It also doesn’t appear to remember the more recent conflict over water rights in Owens Valley, Calif. When the city of Los Angeles diverted surface water and pumped massive amounts of ground water from Owens Valley to L.A., it created an alkali flat, which continues to be the source of dust storms that plague California. Utah, as you all have noticed this winter, doesn’t need any more particle pollution. This proposal needs to be dismissed before the SNWA turns Utah into a scene from The Grapes of Wrath.

Developers in Las Vegas haven’t fully come to terms with the fact that Nevada is a desert, so it’s obvious why they don’t care that Utah is too. Utah struggles with droughts enough as it is; we shouldn’t have to suffer to keep the Bellagio’s fountain looking impressive. Maybe casino owners such as billionaire Steve Wynn, ought to look into building a pipeline up to Fargo as a solution for the Vegas water woes. I’m sure the people up there wouldn’t mind if the Sin City water-stealers helped themselves.

This is a glimpse of the water rights battles that could rage in the West in the near future. Conservation efforts such as xeriscaping will buy time for the West, but a report by the National Research Council predicts that any gains will eventually be absorbed by the Western states’ population growth. The West’s population grew nearly 20 percent in the 1990s and the boom is not expected to stop.

I’m not going to forecast a Malthusian doomsday, but Western states need to start taking a serious look into how many people can be supported by our fragile ecosystems. Sustainability is the solution, and if that takes some form of population control, so be it because the West is already thirsty.

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John Stafford