The Southern Nevada Water Authority wants to take billions of gallons of water that doesn’t exist from Eastern Nevada via a pipeline that would cost ratepayers $15 billion. Doing so would devastate wildlife and the people who live there. That’s according to Kyle Roerink, executive director of the Great Basin Water Network, which opposes the pipeline.
“Southern Nevada should [obtain water] legally,” Roerink said while filming Nevada Politics Today. “They shouldn’t steal water from Eastern Nevada and decimate the face of Eastern Nevada as we know it, along with a national park, national wildlife refuges, and the heritage of our ranching and farming culture.”
The Southern Nevada Water Authority wants to build a $15 billion pipeline to take 84,000-acre feet a year from Eastern to Southern Nevada. Roerink contends some of that water only exists on paper, not in reality.
“What has been proposed is the taking of billions and billions and billions of gallons of water from Eastern Nevada,” Roerink said. “That would [destroy], as the BLM said in an [Environmental Impact Statement] back in 2011, 305 springs, 112 miles of streams, 8,000 acres of wetlands and 200,000 acres of shrubland habit, which would lead not only to a lot of problems for wildlife but a lot of problems for human life out there.”
Asked if SNWA could take some amount of water from Eastern Nevada without causing significant harm, Roerink demurred.
“What we want is for the Southern Nevada Water Authority to pull this plan completely and be done with it,” he said.
To satisfy the growing need for water, Roerink said Clark County residents should double down on conservation efforts.
“I think the big question that Southern Nevadans need to be asking themselves is, ‘Do they need grass in their front yards and backyards right now?’” he said. “One thing that Southern Nevada has done really well and is continuing to do is plan for worst-case scenarios and store and bank water and increase efficiencies.”
Roerink doesn’t think Southern Nevada’s water issues merit a moratorium on new construction.
“I think we have to take a hard look at how we are developing and how many people are coming in,” he said. “That’s been a question here for decades. Before the bubble burst, you had people talking about putting rings around the valley and measures like that. I don’t think anyone believes you can’t have new construction in Southern Nevada.”
Roerink also believes that Gov. Steve Sisolak is an ally in the effort to stop the pipeline.
Sisolak “was very vocal in opposing the pipeline,” Roerink said. “As a former member of the Southern Nevada Water Authority board, he understands the delicate balance required.”
Roerink thinks the cost over the pipeline will factor into Sisolak’s thinking.
“I think he knows that there are better things to spend money on,” Roerink said. “The new first lady (Kathy Sisolak), she helped do the study that gets us to that $15.5 billion. When you look at the cost of desalination and enhanced conservation, it still comes in as less than the pipeline and you’re not destroying Eastern Nevada in doing so.”
Regardless, Roerink doesn’t expect the fight to end any time soon. “This has been a 30-year battle. This is year 30. This has been going on almost as long as I’ve been alive.”
Victor Joecks is a columnist for the Las Vegas Review-Journal.