16 Aug 2008

Sinners and Saints

The saints of Utah are denouncing the plans of Las Vegas (Sin City) to export water from the Snake Valley (which lies in both Nevada and Utah) to southern Nevada. As they recall the [real] horrors visited upon Owens Valley and the Aral Sea, I wonder how this is all going to end. Will there be years of court battles? A dusty desert in the Snake Valley?

As I recall, the Southern Nevada Water Authority bought land in the Valley (fair and square) and plans to export water underlying the land. These exports will far exceed current withdrawals as well as leaving the basin, so there's a legitimate reason to fear that the area will experience some environmental damage.*

My question is this -- are the good people of Utah willing to pay the bad people of Las Vegas to NOT take that water? They are worried about adverse health consequences and ecological damage, sure, but are they only willing to forestall it in the courts?

Bottom Line: Groundwater laws certainly need to be reformed, but---until they are---they are laws. If the people of Utah (and other places) want that water to stay where it is, they need to pay Vegas to leave it there. I don't see that happening, so I do see those exports happening. A pity.

* I've opposed it in these posts. This article details the "battle of the models," as both sides attempt to show their future vision by manipulating parameters, etc. At least some groundwater hydrologists are getting more work!


  1. I wonder if that would even be legal, given the weird system we have now? E.g. whom would they pay, the mayor? I don't mean, he gets a personal check, I'm just saying it's a weird thing when local governments are involved, and it's not just Coasian bargaining between landowners.

    What happens if the next mayor doesn't like the agreement?

  2. Dave, it seems to me that what Utah wants is peripheral and you're not focussing on the real parties in interest: the ranchers in Snake Valley who depend on surface streams and springs that will disappear if the water table is lowered. What are their rights? Can't they band together to sue Las Vegas?

    As for Utah, I don't see that they have a vote, unless they want to pay LV, as you suggest (or help underwrite the Nevada ranchers). Of course they may have a damage claim later.

  3. TT -- you're right, Utah is only vaguely involved, but that doesn't mean they can't scupper the deal (Tragedy of anti-commons) because water withdrawals will "affect" their state.

    I think (but may be wrong) that the local ranchers want to block the deal, but they need to "show harm" via simulations/models -- which was why I referred to the "battle of the models".


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