Julie Jacobson/ AP This March 23, 2012, file picture reveals pipelines extending into Lake Mead well above the high water mark near Boulder City.
Released Thursday, Aug. 24, 2017|3:10 p.m.
Updated Thursday, Aug. 24, 2017|6:15 p.m.
. A federal judge tapped the brakes Thursday but didn’t stop a proposition for a huge and pricey water pipeline to draw underground water from rural valleys along Nevada’s eastern edge to provide the growing Las Vegas city.
The federal Bureau of Land Management needs to reevaluate at possible ecological effects of the Southern Nevada Water Authority task and identify what can be done about them, U.S. District Judge Andrew Gordon said.
The judge defined the repairs he bought as “narrow deficiencies” in environmental impact declarations.
They include whether the project will fulfill Tidy Water Act requirements and whether it will be possible to replace or bring back remote wetlands if groundwater pumping starts in the Spring, Cavern, Dry Lake and Delamar valleys.
Pipeline challengers state ancient natural water basins beneath the Nevada-Utah state line aren’t naturally replenished in today’s arid environment conditions.
“There can be no question that drawing this much water from these desert aquifers will harm the ecosystem and effect cultural sites,” the judge said. “On the other hand, southern Nevada deals with an intractable water shortage.”
Both sides interpreted Gordon’s 39-page ruling as beneficial.
Center for Biological Variety lawyer Marc Fink called it “a win for wildlife and vulnerable habitat across eastern Nevada.”
“There are major concerns about whether (the federal Bureau of Land Management) can reduce the serious effects of this enormous water grab, which would destroy countless acres of wetlands and important environment for many sensitive wildlife species,” Fink said.
Southern Nevada Water Authority officials, however, pointed to Gordon’s finding on what the judge called environmentalists’ primary grievance: That the federal Bureau of Land Management consented to wait till water begins streaming before determining impacts and requiring mitigation.
“The United States District Court ruled that the BLM properly phased the (ecological) analysis and assessed cumulative environmental and climate change impacts, and considered cultural resources and tribal water rights,” authority representative Bronson Mack said in an email statement.
He stated the water authority was confident federal land managers would appropriately deal with the judge’s concerns.
Simeon Herskovits, representing the Great Basin Water Network, Indian people and Nevada’s White Pine County, anticipated it won’t be easy to correct the deficiencies due to the fact that throughout decades of study the water authority hadn’t offered any “concrete verifiable plan.”
Herskovits pointed also to an important week of hearings starting Sept. 25 prior to Nevada’s leading water official, State Engineer Jason King, on a state judge’s order that he reassess his March 2012 finding that there suffices underground water to provide the pipeline.
Gordon’s decision came less than a month after he held a first-ever federal court hearing on the long-discussed pipeline task.
All parties expect the case will be appealed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
The judge acknowledged the complexity and expenditure of a project to provide enough water to serve more than 165,000 homes a year across a range similar to a drive from Los Angeles to Las Vegas.
The water agency concedes the pipeline will cost billions of dollars to construct, but insists it will end up being essential if drought keeps shrinking the Lake Mead reservoir on the Colorado River, which provides 90 percent of Las Vegas drinking water.