LAS VEGAS (AP) — A decades-long fight over a plan to pump water from arid and sparsely populated valleys along Nevada's eastern edge and pipe it to thirsty Las Vegas is about to get its first hearing before a federal judge.
Environmental groups and American Indian tribes are expected to tell U.S. District Judge Andrew Gordon in Las Vegas on Monday that a proposed 263-mile (423-kilometer) north-to-south water pipeline just west of the Nevada-Utah state line amounts to a city water grab supported by incomplete and inadequate federal environmental studies.
Southern Nevada Water Authority lawyers are expected to argue that the state's largest metropolitan area and economic hub has to have water, and that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management properly granted rights of way for the pipeline to cross federal lands in 2012.
The environmental review took eight years, the water agency said in a statement characterizing the pipeline and related pumping and storage facilities as a “modest investment in water resources for considerable economic returns that benefit Nevada as a whole.''
Southern Nevada uses only 5 percent of Nevada's statewide water resources, the statement said, but is responsible for roughly 70 percent of the state's economic activity.
Rob Mrowka, a senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity, evokes fears that remote springs will wither, rare species of plants and animals will die, and arid scrub brush rangeland in the Spring, Cave, Dry Lake and Delamar valleys will turn to dust if Las Vegas is allowed to tap ancient underground aquifers that don't naturally replenish every year.
“Their plan to drain ancient aquifers left by the last ice age would cause significant and catastrophic changes across a section of central Nevada the size of Vermont,'' said Mrowka, whose organization filed a lawsuit in February 2014 against the environmental findings.
Other lawsuits were filed by plaintiffs including local governments in Nevada's White Pine and Lincoln counties, citizen groups, the Duckwater and Ely Shoshone tribes, and the Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation in Utah.
Water agency officials concede a pipeline built to carry 75,000 gallons (283,900 liters) of water a day from near Ely in White Pine County — a distance comparable to a drive from Las Vegas to Los Angeles — could cost billions of dollars to build.
But they say it may become essential if drought keeps shrinking Lake Mead on the Colorado River. The Las Vegas area, home to 2 million people and host to 40 million visitors a year, currently gets almost all of its drinking water from the vast reservoir behind Hoover Dam.
Attorney Simeon Herskovits, representing the Great Basin Water Network, noted the federal court hearing is the first in a case that has been developing since 1989 in state courts.
Proponents and opponents also are due later this year to respond to an order by a Nevada state court judge in Ely that rejected findings by the state's top water official, Jason King, that enough underground water exists to supply the pipeline.
“Our key argument Monday is that the federal government simply failed to take the hard look required under (the National Environmental Policy Act),'' Herskovits said of Monday's proceedings. “In practical terms, there will be no way to replenish or recharge these systems.''
CASPER, Wyo. (AP) — Tribal officials on Wyoming's Wind River Reservation are preparing for visitors looking for a prime spot to view next month's solar eclipse by blocking off sacred sites and opening parts of the reservation to campers willing to pay $500 for a permit.
More than 10,000 people are expected to come to Fremont County and the reservation, whose Crowheart community is on the center line of the Aug. 21 eclipse, The Star Tribune reported (http://bit.ly/2uKR7Ro).
Some residents of the reservation, such as Crowheart Store owner Lloyd Haslam, are underwhelmed by the fact that their location is one of the best spots in the 14 states where the moon's passage will completely block the sun.
Haslam will keep additional supplies and gas on hand — his is the only service stop for miles — but he's skeptical that more than a few people will actually buy the $500 camping permits.
“I've had people all summer talking about it as tourist people come in and stuff,'' he said. “Heck, I could care less.''
Two casinos on the reservation are offering eclipse packages and lodging, while a nonprofit organization is offering teepee stays.
Three swaths of land will be open to people who buy camping permits for the week leading up to the eclipse. Viewing the eclipse for the reservation's side roads also will require a day permit.
However, tribal officials warn the camping areas won't have garbage cans or toilets. It's strictly pack out what you pack in, said Art Lawson, the Shoshone and Arapaho Fish and Game director.
Lawson is in charge of most of the eclipse planning on the reservation, and he's only been on the job for three weeks.
He figures it would take 20 or 30 game wardens to adequately patrol the reservation's lands. He'll have just three, plus officers brought in from Montana by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Lawson said he plans to put up signs to tell travelers that the open spaces bordering state roads are private land requiring special permission to access. He also plans to block off some of the more sensitive sacred sites and graves.
He has already had to deny a German film crew's plans to film the eclipse from a spot on Crowheart Butte.
“I'm like, ‘No, absolutely not,' " Lawson said. “There are grave sites and everything around Crowheaert Butte.''
LAS VEGAS (AP) — U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke was expected to make a stop Sunday in the hometown of Cliven Bundy, a Nevada rancher accused of organizing an armed standoff three years ago that forced federal agents to end a roundup of his cattle.
Zinke's planned stop in Bunkerville, Nevada — about 80 miles (129 kilometers) northeast of Las Vegas — is part of his tour of national monuments being scrutinized by the Trump administration.
Trump announced the review of 27 monuments in May, saying the designations imposed by previous presidents amounted to a massive federal land grab. Monument designations protect federal land from energy development and other activities.
Zinke plans the stop in Bunkerville ahead of visits Monday to the nearby Gold Butte and Basin and Range national monuments, which cover a combined 1,500 square miles (3,885 sq. kilometers) — more than half the size of Delaware.
Gold Butte is the grazing area at the center of the cattle round-up and armed standoff in April 2014 involving Bundy and federal land management agents.
The monument is home to pioneer-era and Native American artifacts, and rare and threatened wildlife, including the Mojave desert tortoise and desert bighorn sheep.
A recent study by the Bureau of Land Management documented nearly 400 ancient rock art panels and more than 3,500 individual petroglyphs scattered throughout the Gold Butte area
President Obama designated the Gold Butte National Monument in 2016 under the 1906 Antiquities Act.
Bundy argues that the federal government has no jurisdiction in such vast rangelands of the West.
He and four of his sons are in jail awaiting federal trial on felony charges that they organized an armed insurrection to turn away Bureau of Land Management agents and contract cowboys and to release cattle collected from the Gold Butte range.
Federal officials say the bureau, an agency within the Interior Department, was trying to enforce court orders issued for Bundy's yearslong failure to pay federal grazing fees.
Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, a Nevada Democrat, recently made a two-minute videotape and Rep. Jacky Rosen, a Democrat running for Republican Sen. Dean Heller's seat in 2018, sent a letter to Zinke urging him to keep his hands off Nevada's natural treasures.
In addition to preserving cultural history, native wildlife and scenic beauty, Gold Butte and Basin and Range generate more than $150 million annually for Nevada's economy, they said.
“Apparently the 2.7 million public comments submitted in favor of keeping these monuments were not enough to help Mr. Zinke make up his mind,'' Masto, a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee overseeing the Interior Department, said about a public comment period that closed earlier this month.
Outdoor retailer Patagonia took out two full page ads in the state's largest newspaper Sunday in support of the two Nevada national monuments.
On Friday, Zinke took a helicopter tour of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument in New Mexico and held a roundtable event with ranchers, county commissioners and university professors.
Last week, he removed Colorado's Canyons of the Ancients National Monument from the list under review. He previously dropped two others, one in Idaho and one in Washington state. A full report is due next month.