Enviros sue Interior over proposed Nev. pipeline
Written byScott Streater, Greenwire
An environmental group is suing the Interior Department in an effort to stop a proposed 300-mile pipeline project that would carry billions of gallons of water a year from rural central Nevada to the Las Vegas metropolitan area but would have potentially significant impacts to natural resources.
At issue is a federal lawsuit filed yesterday by the Center for Biological Diversity in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and the Fish and Wildlife Service. The lawsuit seeks to force FWS to protect four springsnail species that the group says would be threatened with extinction by the pipeline project.
CBD says the pipeline project proposed by the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) would cause the water table in rural Nevada to drop more than 200 feet, drying up springs that support the snails as well as countless other species. Springsnails -- which help improve water quality by consuming decaying matter and algae and are an important food source for fish, birds and amphibians -- need consistent groundwater flow, and any reduction in that flow puts the snails at risk, according to CBD's 16-page complaint.
"Scientists say this scheme to feed urban sprawl in Las Vegas could drive these springsnails to extinction," said Rob Mrowka, a Las Vegas-based CBD ecologist. "The Southern Nevada Water Authority's water grab threatens hundreds of species of native wildlife, and important water supplies for rural residents and future generations."
Blake Androff, an Interior Department spokesman, said the agency does not discuss pending litigation and declined to comment.
The central issue in the federal lawsuit involves a petition filed by CBD and others last year requesting Endangered Species Act protection for the Lake Valley springsnail, hardy springsnail, flag springsnail and bifid duct springsnail. FWS determined the springsnails "may warrant" protection as endangered species, but the agency failed to make a final determination on the snails within a required 12-month deadline, according to the lawsuit.
If FWS had met the deadline, it would be difficult for the pipeline project to be approved as proposed, Mrowka said.
"Endangered Species Act protection is the only hope for saving these springsnails, which are a unique part of Nevada's natural heritage," he said. "Saving them would also save habitat for many other plants and animals in the Great Basin."
The federal lawsuit comes a little more than a month after the Bureau of Land Management released a final environmental impact statement moving the pipeline project closer to final authorization (Greenwire, Aug. 3).
Nevada State Engineer Jason King in March granted SNWA the right to pump water from four rural valleys as far as 300 miles to the Las Vegas metro area, which currently gets 90 percent of its water from the Colorado River system's Lake Mead (ClimateWire, March 26).
A record of decision granting final approval to the $15 billion pipeline project could be issued as early as next month, according to SNWA, which has defended BLM's review of the pipeline proposal as "the most comprehensive analysis ever conducted for a municipal water supply project."
SNWA has said the project is necessary because southern Nevada has grown so much in recent years that the utility is not sure it can rely on the Colorado River, which has endured years of drought and growing water demand that have strained the delicate seven-state compact that allocates its water.
But CBD and other groups, including the National Parks Conservation Association, warned shortly after the release of the final EIS that the pipeline project could have potentially catastrophic environmental impacts, including creating a "dust bowl" scenario (Greenwire, Aug. 6).
CBD said pumping water from the rural valleys could result in a drop in the land surface of more than 5 feet over 525 square miles, threatening five national wildlife refuges, two national parks, four state wildlife areas and seven state parks.
NPCA and the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees issued a statement last month warning that draining water from the rural areas could create dry valleys that lead to dust storms, negatively affecting the nearby Great Basin National Park.
The final EIS estimated the loss of vegetation in the area due to the project could result in nearly 35,000 tons of windblown dust per year.
In addition to the springsnails, Mrowka warned that 14 species of desert fish such as the Moapa dace and the White River springfish would be negatively affected, as well as frogs and toads.