The Las Vegas Water Grab

There has been some buzz about Las Vegas and some possible underhanded dealings that have pushed a nice relaxed timeline into a WTF. (That would be "what the fu**?" for you folks who don't know).

Read, for instance here from a candidate who wishes he could do more. Read also articles here, here, and here that lay out rumors involving Harry Reid and ties to the Washington County bill Senator Bennett is working on.

What I'm wondering is why there isn't more buzz? This is potentially an underhanded deal with political pressure from both sides pushing something that is obviously going to affect the people, places, and species in the area far beyond what they're letting on. Citizens on both sides of the border, and even in California, should be questioning their leaders on this.

Is it because the Snake Valley, and many of the other affected valleys, is home to only a few people that don't hold enough political clout? Is it because these valleys are dusty and sparse anyway? Or is it because a few populated areas just cannot find other ways to quench their thirst?

I'm tired of living in a world where conservation is never the first solution, but the last resort.

Why haven't desert cities like Las Vegas and St. George introduced some common-sense measures like xeriscaping, low-flow faucets, restrictions on daytime watering, and other conservation initiatives that simply make sense given their location? Do these people honestly believe they can keep living like they do with no consequences? Why should good people in Utah and Nevada have to lose their livelihoods so a housing development in Vegas can sustain expansive green lawns and pools?

I read a work of fiction titled "The Tamarisk Hunter" by Paolo Bacigalupi in the last issue of High Country News about a west that doesn't seem so far off: A place where no one can tap into the water because the bigger, better, richer people downstream hold all the rights and have no sign of conscience. Where the states surrounding the Colorado Plateau have been abandoned and turned to ghost towns in a huge drought, while the Colorado flows on to places like Vegas and California.

It's already happening, albeit on a much smaller scale. These folks in the toughest and roughest terrains in Utah and Nevada will be left out to dry, their livelihoods, and indeed the livelihoods of many generations before them, will be nothing but dust, while the folks with the money and the right political connections forge ahead without even a glance in their directions.

I love the Basin, as I have written before. It holds a very special place in my heart, and I hope beyond hope that something can be done. But I am just one. It will take more than myself, Kim Christison, and a few speculating newspaper articles to catch the attention of the powers-that-be. I am calling on all fair-minded people to write letters-to-the-editors of papers in Utah and Nevada, letters to Harry Reid, Bob Bennett, and Jim Matheson. Letters to the Southern Nevada Water Authority, particularly to Harry Reid's son that sits on the board. Posts on blogs. Links to posts. Whatever you can do to draw attention and let them know that this will not go down quietly.


That One Guy said...

Harry Reid: Utah's most effective Senator.

Rick Spilsbury said...

Las Vegas wants to perpetrate a water grab – Owens Valley style.

Urban, rich, Southern Nevada wants to pipe in water from the deserts of Rural Nevada. Almost everyone in Rural Nevada is against this (and maybe most residents of Las Vegas too). But, Rural Nevada has the politically unenviable trait of being the least densely populated area in the Nation – which means that Rural Nevada has historically been the victim of always being in the minority. This time, however, it's “screw Nevada”... by Nevada. And it makes no sense... Las Vegas wants to take water from the desert.

Las Vegas politicians are willing to essentially kill a pristine natural environment in Central Nevada, almost the size of Vermont, to perpetuate an artificial tropical island lifestyle of water waste. Las Vegas developers are drooling for the profits they could get by sustaining unsustainable growth – in a city that is already congested to the point of daily gridlock. And maybe, probably actually, someone is scheming to make billions... by manipulating water customers like addicts.

What makes this whole thing so unjust is that it's not necessary. Las Vegas could build offshore, wave powered, desalination plants – and offer more water to California than Las Vegas would be asking for, in an exchange for a larger allotment from the Colorado River. This would likely end up being more profitable in the long run. Because (in case Southern Nevada hadn't noticed) more water is available from the Ocean than the desert.

So, why doesn't Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) desire the less ecologically devastating option? Because, they claim that present desalination costs are slightly higher than the 10 year old estimates for the pipeline network. This ignores some facts. Although it is true that very high pressures are presently required for desalination, new desalination membranes have been invented which would substantially reduce desalination costs. Not surprisingly, one point SNWA has neglected to mention to us is that the power demands to pump water up to 250 miles across the State of Nevada won't be cheap with the pipeline network either – and won't get any cheaper (like desalination). SNWA wants to depend on coal fired power to run the pipeline pumps for the next 75 years. Here's an example of SNWA's apparent lack of foresight, the price of coal is bound to go up – while the price of waves, wind, and solar will always be zero. So, why is it that SNWA is so unwilling to think outside of the box? Is it just short term thinking? Has Las Vegas just insisted on getting what's cheapest now? Or, is there a secret agenda?

SNWA is a quasi-municipality, but it isn't responsive to community like a typical municipality. Drying up Central Nevada isn't the best thing for Las Vegas. It will hurt Vegas' tourism industry. And, of course, this obviously isn't the best thing for Nevada... This is a water grab. And, historically, every water grab has made someone rich.

Someone may be scheming for a way to exploit us. Hey, why make water for California for free, when you can sell it to them? Why pay to desalinate water, when you can take water from Rural Nevada and get paid to redistribute it? So, SNWA; you may be a municipality, but what would a corporation do?
1.They would try to get as much free stuff as they can from the government.
2.They would provide some value added service to that free stuff.
3.They would charge as much as the market could bear for it – maybe even limiting supply to push up prices.

So far, SNWA is acting more like a corporation than a quasi-municipality (whatever that is). Maybe they have plans they haven't told us about. Could SNWA one day be privatized? Maybe, but it doesn't have to be. All that has to be privatized is some small process of the delivery of the water. From there, a choke-hold on supply can cause prices to skyrocket. Remember Enron power prices? Have you checked the profits of the oil companies recently? It appears that something that looks a lot like price gouging is becoming a common tactic to boost profits. Hey, why make fresh water, when its more expensive if you don't.

So, just what would someone do to score windfall profits?

SNWA has aligned themselves with the coal lobby, by promising to use coal fired power plants to run the giant pumps for the pipeline network. Other than for a political alliance, and the extra political clout to push this through, why would SNWA do this? Coal fired power plants require thousands of acre feet of water – that SNWA covets. Let's face it. Nevada has no water to run coal fired power plants. Nevada has no coal. Rural Nevada has no infrastructure to support the construction of the plants. Rural Nevada has few skilled employees to build and operate these plants. And most important, Rural Nevada doesn't have the customers to consume the power from additional coal fired power plants. The only thing Rural Nevada has, is what it doesn't have, enough people to stop a big corporation from forcing a massively water wasting, polluting coal fired power plant down our throats. Yes, I said polluting. “Clean coal” is an oxymoron... Where does the pollution go? They're not magicians. They can't just get the chemicals to disappear. If they could, why haven't they helped out the auto industry? Most of the visible air pollution would just be stored on the ground, in toxic sludge ponds, waiting to leak into what's left of our ground water. Talk about “screw Nevada.”

Benjamin Franklin once said that “Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch.” It's pretty easy to figure out where this is all headed. This will just be the next, inadvertent step in the decades long, de facto effort, by the rest of the NIMBY Nation, to make Nevada a dumpsite – a wasteland. Nevada is not a wasteland.

Nevada has the most environmentally virgin lands in the continental US. Nevada has the most mountain ranges in the continental US. Many of those mountains are covered with unique and beautiful forests. Nevada has many rare animals and plants that might be pushed to extinction by the trashing of our State. Nevada even has the largest Wildlife Refuge in the continental US – which is at risk from the water grab. Nevada is special. Nevada is worth saving.

For more information, check out my blog; NoShootFoot


Thank you,
Rick Spilsbury