LAS VEGAS — Nevada’s top state water official will hold hearings next year in a bid to resolve long-fought disputes over a proposal to pump groundwater from valleys near the Nevada-Utah state line and pipe it to Las Vegas, officials said Wednesday.
Opponents of groundwater pumping said at a meeting in Carson City they think State Engineer Jason King already has enough information from previous hearings to make a decision to stop the plan altogether.
But Susan Joseph-Taylor, deputy chief of the Nevada Division of Water Resources and an aide to King, said courts have ordered further review.
She told attorneys representing the Southern Nevada Water Authority, Native American tribes in Nevada and Utah, the Mormon church, and the counties of White Pine in Nevada and Millard and Juab in Utah that hearings will be scheduled in fall 2017.
The focus will be on issues raised in a ruling by a senior Nevada state court judge in December 2013, Joseph-Taylor said.
Judge Robert Estes in Ely rejected as “arbitrary and capricious” the state engineer’s March 2012 approval for the water authority serving Las Vegas to pump and pipe millions of gallons of groundwater a year from the Spring, Cave, Dry Lake and Delamar valleys.
The judge ordered the water engineer to recalculate the amount of available groundwater in the basins in White Pine and Lincoln counties and set standards for limiting “unreasonable effects” if pumping is approved.
Environmental groups in Nevada and Utah and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which operates a sprawling ranch in Nevada’s White Pine County, say pumping up to 84,000 acre-feet of water a year would ruin fragile ecosystems on both sides of the state line and turn the valleys to dust bowls.
One acre-foot, or 326,000 gallons, can serve two households for a year, according to water officials in Las Vegas, which currently gets about 90 percent of its drinking water from the shrinking Lake Mead reservoir behind Hoover Dam.
The 250-mile pipeline is expected to cost several billion dollars, and funds have not been allocated.
But pressure has built in recent years to find more water for Las Vegas, its 2 million residents and 40 million visitors amid ongoing drought in the Southwest and the depletion of the Lake Mead reservoir on the Colorado River to less than half full.