I-Team: Water pipeline leads to years of court battles

LAS VEGAS -- The Southern Nevada Water Authority is moving ahead with plans to import water to the Las Vegas valley from underground aquifers in rural parts of Nevada.

But is the plan still workable after decades of court battles over the environmental impact of a giant pipeline?

The pipeline would run across 300 miles of public land and requires federal approval. There are serious concerns about the project -- which include predictions of devastating environmental effects.

The Southern Nevada Water Authority recently had a literal breakthrough.

"The tunnel boring machine, after excavating three miles under Lake Mead over the past three years, encountered and began penetrating the intake structure that has been waiting patiently on the bottom of Lake Mead," said Marc Jensen, SNWA engineering director.

But amid cheers about progress on a third intake to draw water from Lake Mead, the water authority took action with much less fanfare on another multi-billion dollar project. The board decided to move forward with a plan to build a 300-mile long pipeline to pump water to Las Vegas from sources in rural Nevada.

"The water of the state of Nevada belongs to the people of the state of Nevada," said John Entsminger, SNWA general manager. "Seven out of every 10 people live here in the Las Vegas valley."

Interactive Special Report: Rebellion on the Range



"This pipeline is going to cost in excess of $16 billion to build and the water it's going to pump is of very limited nature and the reason you are pumping it is to sustain unreasonable growth in the Las Vegas valley. It just doesn't make sense," said Rob Mrowka, Center for Biological Diversity.

Critics of the pipeline say sucking water out of rural aquifers will dry up streams and wells vital to wildlife and agriculture.

"The water table will be 200 feet down, in excess of 200 feet. Everything will die," said Lincoln County rancher Farrel Lytle.

So far, not an inch of pipe has been laid in the project despite roughly $100 million being spent on research, water rights and court battles with opponents.

"Long term water resource planning requires the expenditure of money," Entsminger said. "When I think you compare those costs over a 25-year time frame to the future of water security of our community, they're very reasonable."


Both sides claim to have science on their side, but opponents of the project say they also have the law on their side and they've won important legal victories to slow or block the project.

"We really feel like there's no question this project cannot be squared with either sound science or reasonable, you know, intelligent and rational construction of Nevada's water law," environmental lawyer Simeon Herskovits said.

So with legal costs rising, and alternatives like de-salting ocean water becoming more feasible, is it likely the pipeline will ever actually be built?

"It is never going to be built for a number of reasons; the impact on the environment and rural communities is one," Mrowka said. "But even more, it doesn't make economic sense."


"We don't know exactly when or if we will need the project but the community wants us to maintain it as an option with other long-term options like ocean desalination and that's what we're going to per our board's direction," Entsminger said. "The first water rights for the project were purchased back in 1989.


But it could be many more years before courts resolve the disputes involving the pipeline.

On Thursday, the I-Team continues to examine public land issues by looking at rancher Cliven Bundy's battle with the Bureau of Land Management.

Be sure to watch the one-hour special Rebellion on the Range Sunday at 6 p.m.




More Stories

Don't Miss

  • Community Calendar
    Copyright 2017 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
  • Connect with 8 News NOW
    Copyright 2017 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
  • Community Pride
    Copyright 2017 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
  • Politics Now
    Copyright 2017 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
  • I-Team Reports
    Copyright 2017 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Latest News

Video Center