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SNWA pipeline project runs gauntlet of legal challenges

While SNWA and the State Engineer appeal a December 2013 Nevada District Court ruling, environmental groups file lawsuits against the federal government

The Southern Nevada Water Authority’s (SNWA) pipeline project—which faced a major setback in December when a district court judge voided State Engineer’s orders that appropriated water rights to SNWA and required recalculation of the water available in the in the basins—continues to slog through the court system.

The project has been on the table since 1989.  A State Engineer ruling in 2012 provided SNWA with 89,988 AFA, but Judge Robert E. Estes held in his December 2013 ruling that portions of the State Engineer’s ruling were “arbitrary and capricious and not supported by substantial evidence.”

The Nevada State Engineer and SNWA each filed notices of appeal in January and filed their Docket Statements on February 13.

They both identify same four issues as the principal issues in the appeal:

  • Whether the State Engineer’s method for calculating the perennial yield (amount of water available) is supported by substantial evidence
  • Whether the efficacy of the monitoring, management and mitigation (MMM) plan is supported by substantial evidence
  • Whether the State Engineer’s conclusion that flows in the White River system will not be impacted by appropriations from the Cave Lake, Dry Lake and Delamar Valleys is supported by substantial evidence
  • Whether the State Engineer has the jurisdiction or authority to order mitigation of water rights outside of Nevada

In addition, both the State Engineer and SNWA identify the issue related to the State Engineer’s method for calculating the amount of water available for appropriate as a matter of first impression—meaning there is no binding authority on the matter.

The Corporation of the Presiding Bishop of the Church of Latter-Day Saints, on behalf of Cleveland Ranch filed a notice of cross appeal on January 29.  There Docket Statement is due on February 26.

The appellants (the State Engineer and SNWA) must file their opening briefs by May 27.

Meanwhile, additional lawsuits have been filed against the project.  On February 12, the Great Basin Water Network announced that it had filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) challenging the Record of Decision that authorized the project and granted a right-of-way that authorized construction and operation of the pipeline. They claim,

BLM did an inadequate analysis of the potential for drastic impacts upon air quality downwind of the project area. The drawdown from SNWA’s proposed pumping would dry up springs, wetlands and riparian areas, and public rangelands by dropping the water table by dozens to hundreds of feet, threatening the regional economic viability of ranching and tourism, and jeopardizing senior water rights.

Great Basin Water Network is joined in the lawsuit by White Pine County, Nevada; Central Nevada Regional Water Authority; Sierra Club; Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation; Ely Shoshone Tribe; Duckwater Shoshone Tribe; Baker, Nevada, Water & Sewer General Improvement District; Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment; Utah Rivers Council; Utah Audubon Council; and League of Women Voters of Salt Lake, Utah.

The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), who is a member of the Great Basin Water Network, also filed a separate lawsuit against BLM and DOI on February 12 claiming that the project would adversely affect various habitat and species and that BLM violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Federal Land Management Act when it approved the project.

CBD is seeking to have BLM complete a supplement environmental impact statement and to have the court enjoin BLM from implementing any part of the project until it can deemed to be in full compliance with the law.

Written by Marta Weismann