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The Great Virgin Valley Water Grab

Photo by Sourav Mishra from Pexels

In August Nevada State Water Engineer Jason King denied 26 Southern

Proposed takes from four basins.

Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) applications to pump 83,988 Acre Feet Annually (AFA) of underground water from 101 wells and transport it about 300 miles from eastern and central Nevada to Las Vegas.

King reports in denial order 6446 (see below) that there are 256 hydrographic groundwater basins in Nevada each having an estimate of ground water availability (perennial yield)[i]. Of those, Spring Valley (one of four basins covered by the denial) has the highest estimate perennial yield (84,100 acre-feet) of any in the state. According to King, it is undisputed that there are only 22,873 acre-feet committed in that basin, leaving over 60,000 acre-feet uncommitted.

Great Basin water grab map

Recently Andrew Davey interviewed Patrick Donnelly, Nevada State Director for the Center for Biological Diversity, about his organization’s fight against the pipeline. According to Donnelly, “Multiple courts have said there’s no way you can pump water without decimating the communities that rely upon the water in this region.  That’s almost indisputable at this point. There’s no way you can mitigate draining an aquifer.”

Donnelly that the key flaw in the State Engineers argument that the same amount of water comes in through rain as comes out through springs and evapotranspiration. The premise is that there’s excess water.”

Donnelly countered, “In reality, these basins are full of fossil water. These are not renewable resources. It’s a singular pot of water. If you take this water out, you won’t get it back.”

Taking 83,988 AFA of underground water from four basins and being unable to replace it is untenable. Yet, the Virgin Valley Water District (VVWD) wants to take pump 77,608 AFA of water from the community’s single basin with a perinniel yield of only 3,600 AFA. That is 22 times what the State Engineer claims is removable on an annual basis.

No one actually knows with any degree of scientific certainty how much water exists in the local Basin. Further elected officials for the City of Mesquite and the Virgin Valley Water Board (VVWB) continually reject plans to study the basin.

There may be some help on the horizon. In 2017 the Nevada legislature directed King to establish a water budget for each groundwater basin in Nevada that can be relied upon by the public.

There is a catch. King argues that a water budget provides the needed certainty for water availability as required by the legislature. Donnelly argues, that If you take this water out, you won’t get it back.” The Great Basin Water Grap Protestors come close to meeting Donnelly’s concern by aruging the need for holistic sustainability (equilibrium) approach to basin studies. 

The state engineer has never required applicants to perform an equilibrium analysis or provide assurance that their pumping will show some prospect of preaching equilibrium between discharge and recharge in a reasonable amount of time.

The water boards 2017 Master Plan is based upon the irresponsible premise that as the population grows water will be available.

The Mesquite Mayor, the city council and the elected members of the water board, are pushing growth over water sustainability.  They are waiting until the facets run dry.

The community’s early warning that the facits are running dry will be for-sale signs on the homes of the Mayor, City Council, and the members of the Water Board and their employees.water enginer ruling on great basin water grab 1


[i]The amount of groundwater that can be withdrawn from a groundwater basin over a period of time without exceeding the long-term recharge of the basin or unreasonably affecting the basin’s physical and chemical integrity.

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About Author

Michael McGreer Mesquite, Nevada
Dr. Michael Manford McGreer is managing editor of and writes on issues that impact public policy.

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