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As Southern Nevada boomed, the level of Lake Mead—our main water source--dropped. Deeper straws were built to keep whatever water remains in the lake flowing to our homes.
But a bigger water plan was hatched decades ago.
The Southern Nevada Water Authority bought up ranches from rural counties north of Las Vegas to access their water rights and a multi-billion-dollar pipeline project was envisioned to suck groundwater from those counties.
The recession killed the need for that idea but the economy has come back.
So what happened to the pipeline plan? It never went away.
Heidi Kyser the staff writer for Desert Companion magazine, which is published by Nevada Public Radio, recently went on a 300-mile bus tour of the rural areas that would be impacted if the pipeline was built.
The tour was sponsored by the nonprofit water conservation organization Great Basin Water Network. The network was formed when the Southern Nevada Water Authority floated the idea of piping the water south.
The network established the bus tours of the area about 10 years ago, but they were revived recently as a way to educate a new generation about the issue, Kyser explained.
“So, they wanted to show people the ranches and the natural landscapes and the springs and all that would potentially dry up or suffer some impact if water were pumped out of those aquifers and springs and down to Las Vegas,” she said.
On the tour, Kyser visited with ranchers who had run cattle or sheep along pasture areas feed by natural aquifers and springs for years. They're afraid a plan to pump water south would destroy their way of life. She said many of them don't have a problem with Las Vegas or with the city needing water.
“They just don’t believe that Las Vegas should be sustained at the expense of rural areas that rely on this water already themselves," she said, "Why take it away from them and give it to us?”
Many believe this doesn't have to be a situation where the urban areas win and the rural areas lose.
“Can’t these populations both exist and can’t the water come from somewhere else?” she said, “They just want a voice in this process. They want to feel like they’re being heard and their needs are being understood. That they’re allowed to continue to subsist the way they have for many generations if it is at all possible.”
The SNWA has already established several conservation measures from paying people to pull out water-hungry landscaping to recycling water. It is also looking at water banking agreements, paying farmers to leave their fields fallow, and involvement in a desalination project in Mexico.
However, when Kyser spoke to the head of the SNWA John Entsminger, he described the rural water pipeline as a 'plan B' or a safety net. The former head of the SNWA Pat Mulroy also said she preferred not to use the plan but felt it had to be in place.
“Water is essential for people to live," Kyser said, "You have to demonstrate you’ve got a plan to keep the water flowing should the Colorado River allotment be exhausted.”
If the water pipeline does go forward at some point, Entsminger admitted it will be "expensive and unpopular." When the plan was revived during the drought of the early 2000s, it was "tremendously unpopular," Kyser said.
Heidi Kyser, reporter, Desert Companion magazine