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INTRO: Tonight Las Vegans will offer opinions and alternative ideas to Southern Nevada Water Authorty's plan to draw millions of gallons of water from rural Nevada. Most public comments from rural areas have opposed the plan, but the Southern Nevada Water Authority is trying hard to open negotiations. It has succeeded in Lincoln County. KNPR's Ky Plaskon reports.
ROWE: We are an indigent County right now, if we give up our water we will be even worse off.
PLASKON: Lincoln County Commission Chairman Tommy Rowe recently described his county north of Las Vegas populated by 3,822 thousand people with an annual budget of 1.5 million dollars. In 1998 Lincoln tried to improve its economy using its water. It signed agreements with Vidler Water Company for water rights, pumping and delivery to support manufacturing, industry, warehousing, health facilities, affordable housing, pollution abatement and public utilities. But then Clark County got involved. It also wanted water rights in Lincoln County.
HOWLE: And they are asking their attorney for legal advice.
PLASKON: Supervising Deputy Attorney General Wayne Howle said Clark County wanted to know if Lincoln County's agreement with Vidler was legal. Howle responded.
HOWLE: It wasn't that it wasn't a good idea, we were strictly looking at the law and whether there was authority to enter into that kind of agreement.
PLASKON: Wayne Howle also wrote the deal wasn't in the public's interest and the legislature hadn't given Lincoln County the authority. Vidler and Lincoln filed suit to stop the opinion from being issued, but failed. Facing the opinion, and a brewing battle over if it had the authority to enter the agreement, Lincoln County Commissioner Tommy Rowe said it was time to negotiate with Clark County over water rights.
ROWE: We wanted to hear what they had to offer and we tried to negotiate with them and they came down with the fine line of rules. If you do this and sign this package then we will do this and we will withdraw this if you withdraw that and whether that is going to be beneficial only time will tell.
PLASKON: The terms divided water rights. Lincoln County would unconditionally withdraw any protests to SNWA's existing claims to water in Lincoln. In exchange, SNWA wouldn't take any legal action opposing Lincoln County water rights applications. Lincoln commissioners voted 3 to 2 in favor of the terms on March 17, 2003. That same day, Clark County Senator Warran Hardy introduced SB 336 in the legislature. It's passage gave Lincoln County the authority it needed to pursue the Vidler project. Until then SNWA had locked up every available water right in Lincoln says Commissioner Hal Keaton. He says agreeing to the terms was a no-brainer because it meant Lincoln would get back half of those water rights.
KEATON: You can have all the land in the world but without water you can't develop it and that was the purpose for me signing with the SNWA so we would have access to water and could have economic development here.
MULROY: I think we are struggling to find the key to open the door to find a productive conversation."
PLASKON: Pat Mulroy, SNWA General Manager, says now its time for White Pine County to negotiate. She says negotiations will be different because unlike Lincoln County's focus on development, White Pine is more interested in conservation and ranching.
MULROY: What they need to do is develop an agreement with us which keeps them involved in the process all along to where they are almost a co-owner and a co -developer. I am not asking them to trust me, I am asking them to sit at the table and develop an agreement where they will have ongoing involvement in the process and can protect the interests of White Pine County.
PLASKON: She says the SNWA has promised, not to buy private water rights in White Pine County. But Mulroy said eventually water speculators will move in to the area. In order to evaluate outside water resources for Las Vegas, the SNWA has an Integrated Water Planning Advisory Committee that includes representatives of White Pine County. Some of those representatives did privately meet with SNWA Deputy General Manager Kay Brothers last month to try to open some dialogue. But Whit Pine County representative Dean Baker said it was like an ant negotiating with goliath. Mulroy says the legislature may help to break the impasse.
MULROY: There is going to be some kind of study committee that would be my guess and that provides for some bridge building in the interim. If any legislation were warranted be it for the protection of rural Nevada or southern Nevada.
PLASKON: The SNWA currently opposes a bill in the legislature that would make water transfers from rural to urban counties more restrictive.
Ky Plaskon, News 88-9 KNPR
TAG: The Bureau of Land Management will decide if SNWA can draw rural water. It's asking for public comment on the plan tonight in Las Vegas. The meeting will be held at Alexis Park Hotel 375 E. Harmon Way from 5 to 9 pm. For more information, call us at 258-5633.