Plans for a major freshwater pipeline for the Las Vegas Valley hit a legal roadblock.
A ruling from Nevada’s Supreme Court last week has threatened the fate of a massive pipeline project once hailed as critical to Las Vegas’ freshwater supply, the Las Vegas Sun reports.
The court determined that the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s claims to tens of thousands of acre-feet of water in rural Nevada expired a long time ago and are currently invalid.
The water authority has aggressively pursued construction of a 300-mile pipeline connected to a series of wells since 1989. The multi-billion dollar project would channel water from rural areas and provide an alternative freshwater source to the Las Vegas’ rapidly growing population, which threatens to exhaust Nevada’s allotment from the dwindling Colorado River.
The agency recently said it will only build the pipeline if it is absolutely necessary. Some authorities say that desperate scenario might arise before the end of the decade, as drought and climate change are expected to further lower water levels in Lake Mead.
But the court ruled that the state engineer didn’t follow local law when the application was first filed 20 years ago. Then state engineer Mike Turnipseed failed to rule on the request during the appropriate one-year time frame. And although the application could have been extended, none of the requirements—including an ongoing study, court action, or permission from the rights applicant and protestors—were met.
The water authority tried to address the missed deadline in a 2003 legislative amendment, which added language about when an application ruling could be postponed—either for municipal use or “where studies of water supplies have been determined to be necessary. . .or where court actions are pending.”
However, last Thursday’s court decision stated that the amendment does not apply to applications submitted more than one year prior to its enactment. As a result, the 1989 applications were once again assessed under the previous state law and invalidated.
With the pipeline project in a state of uncertainty, the water authority would have nothing to pump to southern Nevada.
The agency has already re-filed its applications from 1989, and said it will follow all necessary procedures. It now awaits a district court ruling on whether the applications must be redone or meet new legal requirements.
Meanwhile, opponents question whether the pipeline is necessary.
Growth has stalled in the region, and projected shortages are less severe than expected. Some critics are calling for reassessment given new water supply from Lake Mead, potential desalination plants, and extra Colorado River water in Arizona.
“What’s the point of doing these multibillion-dollar projects if we find out in 30 or 40 years that we don’t need them?” Southern Nevada Water Authority board member and county commissioner Steve Sisolak told the Sun.
The pipeline has also faced consistent opposition from environmental groups and residents of rural communities.
Authorities and citizens are waiting on the district court to find out what will happen to the water authority’s claims in four towns, and what the future holds for the pipeline project.
See Circle of Blue’s previous coverage about the interstate water issues associated with the Nevada pipeline here.
is a Washington, D.C–based correspondent for Circle of Blue. He graduated from DePauw University as a Media Fellow with a B.A. in Conflict Studies. He co-writes The Stream, a daily summary of global water news.