Parched states | Buzz Blog

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Parched states

Posted By on August 13, 2009, 2:53 PM

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A draft agreement in a border skirmish on water is nothing more than a temporary cease fire in the war for the most valuable natural resource.---

Utah and Nevada have finalized a draft agreement for the use of water from the Snake Valley aquifer, with the core element being an equal split of the approximately 132,000 acre feet of water per year. It also has some other important aspects, such as a ten-year moratorium on Nevada's plan to run a pipeline into the valley, and will ideally include environmental protections to ensure that valley doesn't become a dust bowl.

This is an issue that has been contentious since 2004, when Nevada first started pursuing the water. In short, it boils down to two claims. Nevada claims it can tap the water because most of it originates in the Snake Mountains, which are on their side of the border. Utah claims they can only tap a portion of it because most of the water from those mountains feeds into the Snake Valley, which is divided by the state line but primarily in Utah.

While negotiators from both states are applauding the agreement, Mark Ward with the Utah Association of Counties said that the split is not close to fair and is a "feel-good 50/50." He suggested splitting the water based on acreage in the valley for the two states, which would be about 7-to-1 in favor of Utah. "That's true parity."

A lot has been written about this issue, although much of it is burps and farts from different media outlets when the issue needs attention. In other words, there is a lot of information but very few have really tackled this issue. One of the best was actually done two years ago for City Weekly by former reporter Ted McDonough. For some of the best recent articles, go to LV Review-Journal's story today, or a Deseret News story from two weeks ago about the agreement (Disclosure: This was the last article I edited at that paper).

This issue has always served as an ominous alert to a few people, although sadly much of the population simply wants water without long-term concern for the impacts of their consumption. (See also: oil and gas usage, power plants, and fast food). The relative trickle of water that comes from this aquifer will provide for less than 5 percent of the current population of the Las Vegas metro area, yet the state is willing to construct a massive pipeline, instigate cross-border fights, and suck a valley near Great Basin National Park dry to get it. This is not smart planning, it is enabling addicts.

The West is dry, and always has been. Dreamers 150 years ago envisioned a blossoming southwestern United States that would never be short of water. There are still many people who have this same belief, despite the Colorado River slowly drying up and increasingly common droughts. And sadly, until their taps are literally dry, their attitudes will not change.

On a side note, if anyone wants to read the definitive treatise on water supply in the West, find Wallace Stegner's "Beyond The Hundredth Meridian." It should be required reading of anyone wanting to build a sprawling metropolis in the middle of a desert.

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