Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, July 31, 2017

Contact:  Rob Mrowka, (702) 218-9911,

Federal Judge Hears Arguments to Prevent Las Vegas Water Grab

 $15 Billion Pipeline Would Endanger Wildlife, Rural Communities

LAS VEGAS— The Center for Biological Diversity today asked a federal judge to protect endangered wildlife, public lands and rural communities from the Southern Nevada Water Authority's massive pipeline project by denying the authority's right-of-way request and requiring federal officials to comply with environmental laws.

Center attorney Marc Fink presented oral arguments in U.S. District Court in a case, filed by the Center against the federal Bureau of Land Management in 2014, that could determine whether the 263-mile pipeline to Las Vegas can be built. Judge Andrew P. Gordon heard oral arguments from all parties in the case and took the matter under advisement.

“The Water Authority's plan to drain ancient aquifers would cause catastrophic changes to public lands across eastern Nevada,” said Rob Mrowka, a senior scientist with the Center. “We're hopeful the judge will halt the project and protect wildlife, habitat and communities from this disastrous Las Vegas water grab.”

The $15.5 billion pipeline project would siphon more than 7.8 billion gallons of precious groundwater each year from public lands in the eastern Nevada desert, pumping it south to metropolitan Las Vegas. There are sustainable ways to meet the water needs of Las Vegas that would avoid permanently draining the desert dry, threatening wildlife and rare plants and upending rural communities.

The groundwater development project would dry up and significantly harm more than 200 square miles of habitat for sage grouse, mule deer, elk and pronghorn, including portions of the Pahranagat, Moapa Valley and Desert national wildlife refuges as well as Great Basin National Park and Basin and Range National Monument. More than 5,500 acres of meadows, 200 springs and 33 miles of trout streams would be irreparably hurt by groundwater pumping that would drop water tables by up to 200 feet.

“Some of Nevada's rarest animals need these wetlands and springs to survive,” said Mrowka. “We'd lose iconic wildlife like the pronghorn, sage grouse and Bonneville cutthroat trout as springs, streams and water tables that sustain native plants are eliminated or significantly drained.”

The Center argued that the Water Authority currently has no rights to water to put into the proposed pipeline. On Dec. 10, 2013, the 7th Judicial District Court of Nevada issued a decision, sought by the Center and allies in the Great Basin Water Network, that stripped the Water Authority of 83,988 acre-feet per year of groundwater. The judge characterized it as "likely the largest interbasin transfer of water in U.S. history.”

Other legal claims include the BLM's failure to properly analyze impacts from climate change; permanently and irreversibly impaired springs, ground water wetlands and wildlife habitat; and failure to comply with the “resource management plan” in effect for the area.

“Thirsty southern Nevada needs water, but the answer is not sucking eastern Nevada valleys dry and driving species to extinction to support uncontrolled growth,” Mrowka said. “There's still time for the Authority to table the project and start talking to the community about better options for meeting the Las Vegas Valley's future water needs. ¬†Improved conservation and sensible growth management are critical.”

The Center has actively opposed this water grab since 2006. You can read the Center's background briefing paper here.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.3 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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