PLASKON: The Southern Nevada Water Authority's Pat Mulroy says Las Vegas can take water from Nevada without harming rural lifestyles or the environment there.
MULROY: You would hurt the water supply if you over draft it. That is the part they don't understand. It would be counter productive and counter intuitive for us to destroy the eco systems in those valleys and thereby jeopardizing the very water supply that we need to develop.
PLASKON: The plan to drill nearly 200 wells and pipe the water hundreds of miles to Las Vegas is on federal land. So the Bureau of Land Management has to review it with a public comment period. So far it's completed half of the planned 9 meetings drawing hundreds of people to tiny towns like Baker and Ely. Subcontractor Ron Dutton is one who collects the comments.
DUTTON: People were passionate about why they live here. I wouldn't call them naturally opposed; these are people who see the project as having an affect on the reason why they live in rural Nevada and the very structures and opportunities of their families.
PLASKON: The rural lifestyle is predominately ranching. One of the meetings was last week in Caliente Nevada, an hour north of Las Vegas on highway 93 past lakes and lush ranches of Paranagat Valley. Toni Schute is a beef cattle rancher and says Las Vegans can think about water every time they eat, and drawing ranch water is a threat to the food supply.
SCHUTE: And there is no more hamburgers in the buns, and then there is no more lettuce to put on the hamburgers and then there's no more tomatoes and eventually people are going to wake up and realize that our food doesn't come from the story, it comes from agriculture and it takes water."
PLASKON: The purpose of the meeting is to gather public input like that. The Caliente meeting wasn't as well attended but like other meetings this one didn't contain any comments in favor of SNWA's project.
SCHMITT: I am not sure I need this microphone this evening. My name is Linda Schmitt and I am part of the consultant Team that was brought in by BLM to develop the environmental impact statement. This is an important issue and you should be congratulated for participating.
PLASKON: The comments and subsequent study are meant to help the BLM ultimately determine if the project should go through. Citizens took turns asking questions for the record.
LYTLE: Where can we look at the qualifications of the EIS team, the prior experience. I have some questions about SNWA, is it a corporation, who governs it, is it elected, are they appointed. I have never seen SNWA representatives. Is SNWA constructing the pipeline or some other organization constructing it? What is the definition of a harmful effect of pumping? Can others use the pipeline to transport water?"
PLASKON: Since this is SNWA's project it's required to pay for an Environmental Impact Statement. Usually SNWA would give BLM money and the BLM would contract with an environmental firm to conduct the study. But according to the BLM, it's headquarters was so swamped, it made an exception and allowed SNWA to solicit bids, write a contract, sign it and pay a company directly for the Environmental Impact Statement. SNWA signed with ENSR International, the world's 6th largest environmental consulting firm. It's conducted 60-thousand projects in 100 countries, cleaning up thousands of industrial waste sites, investigating plutonium contamination for the CDC, and developing an El Paso pipeline. The contract cost SNWA one million dollars less than its original commitment of 2.4 million for the study. Under that contract, the public comment period would only last until tomorrow. Though the SNWA pays the bills, the BLM is still the project manager however and added another week for public comment on SNWA's the multi billion dollar groundwater project.
SOUND: You'd think for 2 billion dollars they could hire a cadre of lawyers.
PLASKON: Some in Caliente want Las Vegas to renegotiate and get more Colorado River water. Others want to know who will get to use the pipeline.
PLASKON: Some asked if the BLM would consider not approving SNWA's plan. There is a "no action" option in contract. Another resident asked for wildlife watering stations every 4 miles along the hundreds - of miles of pipeline. A draft of the BLM's environmental impact statement is expected this time next year. At that point there will be another round of public comment. During the meeting one cattle rancher sat in the back with his wide-brimmed gray hat pulled down to just above his eyes. After the meeting he was too shy to say his name but he's hungry for more information. Meetings aren't helping.
RANCHER: I have been to 100 of em, they are all like this.
PLASKON: What do you think they are doing.
RANCHER: They should have brought beer instead of cookies. I've never been to a good meeting yet. They might get more turn out if they had beer. People might be a little more relaxed.
SOUND: Entering Bar
PLASKON: Down at the Hide-away Liqour Store and Bar, tender John Freitas thinks the SNWA's 2-billion dollar pumping and piping plan would help the local economy.
FREITAS: It might produce a little bit of income for people like us. Fills up this place right there are always drinkers and eaters right?
PLASKON: ENSR's economist said the town's doing okay on tourism and ranching already. Opponents have adopted the slogan "Craps or Crops" pitting gambling against farming.
SOUND: Opening door
PLASKON: In the local store Rancher Bobby Allen says Las Vegas and rural Nevada have to share the state's limited water but under a watchful eye to ensure safeguards.
ALLEN: The citizens here are really going to have to stay on it. I think we should send them ample water just so they won't come up here, they can stay home and we can stay up here and send them something down so that Las Vegas and Los Angeles doesn't come up here. Give them their swimming pools, give them their grass and stuff like that, make them happy.
PLASKON: The store's cashier hears him and shakes her head.
CASHIER: Now they are putting us on water meters, they are putting us on it, they are charging us.
PLASKON: The lifestyle in Caliente is changing already. For the first time, the 12-hundred person town is installing water meters.
Whether or not SNWA's groundwater project goes through, 5 of the local newspaper's 16 pages contain 50 applications by Harvey Whittemore to change water use from farming to residential uses. Ky Plaskon, News 88-9 KNPR
You can take part in the public comment Wednesday. The meeting takes place at Alexis Park Hotel, 375 E. Harmon from 5 to 9 p.m.
Wednesday Ky Plaskon reports on negotiations that led to an agreement on rural water between Lincoln and Clark Counties.