(EnviroNews Utah) – It’s coming down to the wire on what some are calling the most critical environmental issue in Utah state history. Republican Governor Gary R. Herbert is poised to sign off on what has now been coined the Snake Valley Water Grab, which aims to ship off as much 43 billion gallons of water per year, to neighboring Nevada for use in one of America’s most environmentally ill-conceived cities.
The agreement on the table between Utah and Nevada, the two driest states in the country would aim to siphon off up to 132,000 acre feet of precious water per year from Utah’s Snake Valley, and pump it South down a 285 mile long pipeline into water-thirsty Las Vegas. The 15 billion dollar pipeline proposal is being called nothing more than a “drinking straw” that would serve to rob precious water from a dry and ecologically sensitive area, in order to ship it to a place that many conservationists say, should have never been built in this location in the first place.
The greasewood plant is the glue if you will, that holds the desert floor together in the arid Northern Great Basin, and scientists warn that draining the ancient aquifers under the Snake Valley in Western Utah could render the area devoid of this, and other critical vegetation. The annihilation of native foliage would likely and subsequently result in the creation of a massive and deadly dust bowl, positioned upwind from densely populated areas along the Wasatch Front in Northern Utah.
This past winter, cities along the Wasatch Front were plagued with the worst air quality in the United States making headlines around the nation and the world. Some experts are sounding the alarm and claiming that the subsequent dust bowl that would ensue from draining the aquifers under the Snake Valley could set off an environmental disaster of unparalleled magnitude for the Salt Lake Valley . Resultant dustbowl disasters from water diversion projects in Owens Valley, California, and the Aral Sea in Uzbekistan are being cited as examples of what to expect if the precious liquid in these critical aquifers is sold to water-hungry Las Vegas for the purpose of ensuring dozens of golf courses stay green, and casino water fountains keep flowing.
Dr. Brian Moench, and the Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment have championed the voice of opposition in regards to the Pipeline Agreement, a massive environmental issue that until recently has remained relatively quiet in the media. Moench said this in a recent op-ed in the Deseret News:
“The 15 billion dollar straw is only a one time source of water. Once the aquifers have been depleted, in 50 years they’ll have an even worse water deficit than they have now, because Las Vegas will be even bigger, but with no more water than when they started. Longterm, it is a recipe for disaster for both Nevada, and Utah.”
So if this “water grab” is achieved and a large dustbowl area is created, just what’s in this dust, and what does it all mean for residents in Utah’s most densely populated areas? Air pollution activists along the Wasatch Front say that if water-tables in the West Desert are drained, the impact on Utah’s already crisis-level air pollution would be devastating, and contained within that dust would be harmful metals, thousands of bacteria and viruses, and even potentially deadly radioactive isotopes.
Moech and the Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment have put forth a phone drive encouraging Utah residents to swarm the phone lines of Utah’s pro-industry Governor in an effort to encourage Herbert to say “NO” to the pipeline agreement. The physicians group was seeking to achieve a minimum of 5,000 calls to the Governors office before April, 1st, as the Governor recently announced to the public that he would make a decision by that date, conveniently enough, April Fools Day.
As has been reported by multiple news organizations in Nevada and beyond, in the spirit of “Sin City”, Las Vegas decided to wage a high stakes bet many years ago. They wagered to perpetuate growth beyond their Colorado River water allowance in a bet that they would be able to sure up deals to buy and import water from neighbors down the road. Well, “down the road” has now arrived and the cards that will reveal weather Vegas’s all-in water bet is flop or flush, are about to be turned over. The card Vegas is hoping to draw is one that bears the signature of Utah Republican Governor Gary Herbert’s signature on the Las Vegas/Snake Valley Water Pipeline Agreement. Considering the track record, and the history of Utah’s pro-industry governor on issues of big money versus the environment, it seems likely that Herbert will succumb to the pressures of short term economic benefit, over long term concerns to the environment, local ecology, and human health. It also seems that Utah will see if the joke is on them come April Fools Day of 2013.