Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, May 16, 2017

Contact:  Patrick Donnelly, Center for Biological Diversity, (702) 483-0449,
David von Seggern, Sierra Club Toiyabe Chapter, (775) 303-8461,
Laura Cunningham, Basin and Range Watch, (775) 513-1280,
Tanya Henderson, Amargosa Conservancy, (760) 852-4339,

Nevada Water-grab Legislation Would Endorse Groundwater Depletion, Environmental Destruction

CARSON CITY, Nev.— Environmental groups expressed grave concerns today in a hearing of the Nevada Senate Natural Resources Committee over proposed legislation that would alter state law to allow construction of a massive water pipeline, devastating ecosystems and putting already imperiled wildlife at risk of extinction.

Assembly Bill 298 would pave the way for massive groundwater export projects that would harm desert water features like springs and wetlands, degrade air quality with fugitive dust and impact existing water rights holders. During the hearing numerous members of conservation groups and the public spoke to vigorously oppose the bill.

The Southern Nevada Water Authority — the primary author of the proposed legislation — has long pursued a project to grab groundwater from eastern Nevada and pipe it hundreds of miles across the desert to slake Las Vegas' unending thirst. White Pine County, the Great Basin Water Network and the Center for Biological Diversity have all filed suit against the project.

“This appalling bill is just a blank check for a massive pipeline that will suck up Nevada's groundwater at the expense of rural communities, wildlife and future generations,” said Patrick Donnelly, Nevada wildlife advocate at the Center. “The Southern Nevada Water Authority's proposed pipeline, and this legislation to enable it, are destructive to Nevada's environment, and we're going to do everything we can to stop them.”

A.B. 298 would make significant changes to Nevada water law in order to facilitate projects like this pipeline. The bill would redefine the term “environmentally sound” to permit pumping projects to dry springs and water features such that native riparian plant communities would transition to dry-land communities. The extirpation of native plant communities is clearly not environmentally sound.

It would also implement measures ostensibly intended to mitigate environmental impacts that in reality would simply be an early warning signal for an impending ecological disaster by initially only requiring monitoring. Mitigation, which is supposed to ensure any harm from pumping to existing water rights users and the environment is offset, would only happen once a problem is detected, but by then the damage will have already been done and whatever mitigation that is required will just be a band-aid.

“In truth, this bill's mitigation plans offer only a veneer of protection,” said David von Seggern, chair of the Sierra Club Toiyabe Chapter. “By the time impacts are detected, it is too late to save the resources. After pumping ceases, aquifer levels may not recover for generations.”

What makes this proposed legislation even worse is that Nevada already has numerous over-allocated basins where the effects of groundwater overdraft have been felt. And because Nevada is the driest state in the country, its wildlife are particularly susceptible to negative impacts from groundwater pumping.

“Deer, elk, bighorn sheep, migratory birds, rare and endemic aquatic species — they all rely on sustainable flows from Nevada's springs and wetlands,” said Basin and Range Watch executive director Laura Cunningham. “Drying up those water features would be catastrophic for Nevada's wildlife.”

“Springs have already dried up or shown reduced flows due to over-pumping in Nevada's Amargosa hydrographic region, imperiling endangered species such as the Pahrump poolfish and the Devil's Hole pupfish,” said Tanya Henderson, executive director of the Amargosa Conservancy.

“Make no mistake — the intent of this bill is to facilitate groundwater export by the Southern Nevada Water Authority,” said Donnelly. “Any claims of the bill protecting existing rights users or the environment are the greenwashing of a destructive proposal.”

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.

The Toiyabe Chapter serves Sierra Club members in all of Nevada, protecting the air, water, and land resources of our state, and providing quality outdoor experiences.

Basin and Range Watch is a 501(c)(3) non-profit working to conserve the deserts of Nevada and California and to educate the public about the diversity of life, culture, and history of the ecosystems and wildlands of the desert.

The Amargosa Conservancy is dedicated to standing up for the wilds, waters, and communities of the scenic Amargosa Basin and Eastern Mojave.

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