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After Weeks of Discontent, Consensus Emerges As AB 30 Passes Its First Legislative Committee

Remember all the fire and fury when the Nevada Legislature first heard AB 30 and AB 51, the two water bills pertaining to the pipeline proposal long sought by Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA)? During the February 27 hearing, no one testified in support during public comment while a host of groups united in opposition.

In the month since that contentious hearing, both bills appeared to be dying on the vine. But at the Nevada Legislature, appearances can often be deceiving. And of course, when it comes to the Nevada Legislature, it’s usually quite complicated.

A refresher on the real dispute behind the public divisions over AB 30
Photo by Matt Affolter, licensed under Creative Commons, and made available by Wikimedia

During that February 27 Assembly Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Mining (NRAM) Committee hearing, Acting State Engineer Tim Wilson claimed, “The intent of AB 30 is to add needed clarity to existing Nevada water law.” According to the Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), AB 30 is needed to clarify state water law and provide a more streamlined conflict mitigation process.

But where state officials see a more streamlined conflict mitigation process, environmentalists and rural communities see a ham-handed attempt to railroad the controversial SNWA pipeline to Eastern Nevada into approval. State and federal lawsuits have proven valuable for such opponents to force a halt to the water diversion project that Eastern Nevada locals fear SNWA wants to force upon them. If AB 30 becomes law, it will probably give state officials greater authority to approve the pipeline so long as they deem SNWA’s mitigation plan sufficient…

Except that just moments ago, Assembly NRAM just voted 8-4 to pass an amended version of AB 30. So how did the bill get amended?

Let’s get to work (session)
Photo by Andrew Davey

On February 27, the Acting State Engineer requested legal clarity. Today, the committee passed a new and improved version of AB 30 in work session that essentially tightens up the mitigation process. According to the amendment, an applicant proposing a new water diversion project must “take every reasonable effort to avoid the conflict” and must prove to the State Engineer that wells and diversion plans are designed in a way to avoid conflicts, the project has been designed as efficiently as possible, and that the applicant has made a real good-faith effort to cooperate with existing water right holders and domestic well owners and avoid conflicts.

In other words, the new work session language has been crafted in a way so no one can interpret AB 30 as an explicit or implicit green light for SNWA’s pipeline to Eastern Nevada. The amended AB 30 still allows the State Engineer to approve and implement monitoring, management, and mitigation (or 3M) plans, but only if the above conditions are met.

Before the committee vote, Nevada DCNR Chair Brad Crowell thanked Assembly NRAM Chair Heidi Swank (D-Las Vegas) for helping all the stakeholders “find the path forward” and declared, “We have set in motion a framework for implementing mitigation in a constructive way for managing water resources.”

Suddenly, there was consensus… Except when it came to the actual committee vote, and the ongoing courtroom drama
Photo by Thure Johnson, licensed under Creative Commons, and made available by Flickr

Minutes later, Great Basin Water Network’s Kyle Roerink bluntly stated, “We are here because we found some neutral ground, and that is a long way from where we were six weeks ago. […] We cut out some words, built in a safety net, and added a foundation.” He then added, “If we continue to forge down this path of compromise, good things will come from it.”

Then, moments before the committee vote, the Center for Biological Diversity’s Patrick Donnelly testified as neutral and explained his shift: “Let me be clear: This is not authorization for the Las Vegas Pipeline. […] This is a win for the environment, because we are not losing.”

And yet, following this very climactic convergence upon consensus among the various community stakeholders who’ve been debating AB 30, the actual vote was fairly anticlimactic. The vote was 8-4 and entirely among party lines, with Democrats voting in favor and Republicans voting against.

Perhaps this dynamic will change as AB 30 now moves to the full Assembly, but don’t be surprised if it doesn’t. Still, at the very least, the legislative ticking time-bomb of SNWA and the pipeline has been diffused for now… And all eyes return to state and federal courts to figure out any kind of resolution for this pipeline fight that’s been 30 years in the making.

Cover photo by Thure Johnson, licensed under Creative Commons, and made available by Flickr.

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