Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, June 15, 2023


Patrick Donnelly, Center for Biological Diversity, (702) 483-0449,
Kyle Roerink, Great Basin Water Network, (702) 324-9662,

Nevada Sen. Cortez Masto Pushes Bill for Colorado River Water to Feed Las Vegas Sprawl

Horizon Lateral Pipeline Would Blast Through National Conservation Area

LAS VEGAS— Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) introduced legislation today to force approval of the Horizon Lateral Pipeline, which would deliver Colorado River water to feed new sprawl development south of Las Vegas.

The pipeline’s route would go directly across Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area, a protected area that’s home to world-famous petroglyphs and other cultural artifacts. The conservation area provides important habitat for desert bighorn sheep, Nevada’s state animal.

“The Colorado River is in free fall, but Sen. Cortez Masto wants to build another straw to suck water out of it to fuel more unsustainable development,” said Patrick Donnelly, Great Basin director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This latest attack on public lands to benefit real-estate developers should outrage everyone who cares about the future of the river and the desert Southwest.”

The pipeline is an essential piece of Cortez Masto’s plan to extend the Las Vegas urban footprint south to the California state line. In 2021 the Bureau of Land Management denied the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s right-of-way application for the pipeline because it would go through the conservation area, designated in 2002 as mitigation for other public lands sold off for Las Vegas sprawl.

The Clark County lands bill, introduced by the senator in 2021, would sell off 42,000 acres of public lands south of Las Vegas for sprawl development. The Horizon Lateral Pipeline would provide Colorado River water to enable that growth, including a new airport on the California state line.

The Southern Nevada Water Authority, which would build and operate the Horizon Lateral Pipeline, has been a vocal opponent of diversions from the Colorado River upstream from Las Vegas. The authority recently got legislation passed to dramatically enhance its power to curtail residential water use in Las Vegas during water emergencies.

“We are not conserving water in Vegas. We are repurposing,” said Kyle Roerink, executive director of the Great Basin Water Network. “The hypocrisy stinks to high heaven. While the SNWA is taking extreme measures for conservation one minute, lawmakers are pushing pipelines to use river water to feed new sprawl development the next.”

The federal government has declared the Colorado River to be in a Tier 2 shortage, with Nevada’s allocation decreased by 17%. Climate change has decreased Colorado River flows by 20% over the past two decades, and experts expect the river to lose another 20% in the next 30 years.

Water authority ratepayers are on the hook to pay for the Horizon Lateral Pipeline. In 2020 the authority’s board voted to increase rates to pay for infrastructure including the pipeline. In 2022 the Interior Board of Land Appeals approved a reconsideration of the BLM’s decision denying the pipeline right of way, but if the Cortez Masto bill becomes law the agency would be forced to approve it.

“This bill is an attack on the integrity of our protected public lands,” said Donnelly. “It’s outrageous that land protected as mitigation for sprawl would be sacrificed 20 years later for a pipeline to fuel future sprawl. Sen. Cortez Masto needs to back off of this legislation and respect our protected public lands.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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