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Coalition Calls upon Utah Governor NOT to Approve West Desert Water Mine
Las Vegas Water Grab Would Unleash Public Health and Environmental Disaster
Salt Lake City (UT). A coalition of interests is calling upon Governor Gary Herbert not to sign an agreement allowing Nevada to suck 40 billion gallons of water every year in a water mining operation in the Utah-Nevada Desert. After years of controversy and studies showing the project would devastate farming and ranching border communities, the resources of the Goshute Indian Nation and fish and wildlife populations in both states, Governor Herbert appears poised to sign the agreement.
“If Governor Herbert approves this agreement, he will set in motion a tragic long term ecological disaster with a cascade of impacts upon our health, agriculture, recreation and the economy that will last for decades” said Zach Frankel with Utah Rivers Council. “Few governors are given such a monumental decision to make and he should wait to hear what the public thinks about this water mine before allowing the West Desert to become a barren dust bowl” said Frankel.
The groups are organizing a “call in march” on Gov. Herbert’s office, asking all Utah residents to call his office every day between now and April 1 and insist he refuse to sign the agreement. A Rally will be held Thursday night at 7:00 pm in Salt Lake at 2240 South 900 East.
“If ever there was a Utah environmental issue that transcends all political, moral, and economic demographics, this is it,” said Tim Wagner with the Sierra Club. “The Governor has to know that not kowtowing to a handful of Las Vegas politicians is a sign he cares about Utahns first.”
The groups cite numerous studies that show if the project goes forward, an area the size of Vermont would see its water table drop hundreds of feet, native vegetation would be denuded, critical springs will dry up and rural farm and ranch communities will turn into ghost towns.
“The decision about whether to mine this water won’t just affect Utahns, it will reverberate across a vast geography and many economic sectors” said Gary Wockner, of Save the Colorado, a Denver philanthropic organization. “Governor Herbert should give Utahns the chance to voice their concerns before he rushes to sign this agreement” said Wockner.
Two dozen organizations will submit a letter of concern to the Governor on Friday, outlining their strong opposition to the pipeline because of the long list of community, health, economic and environmental impacts the water mining operation will place upon Utahns.
The loss of vegetation covering the West Desert landscape will cause massive regional dust storms that will further impact the air quality of the Wasatch Front, one of America’s dirtiest airsheds.
“Utah is already in the national spotlight for the worst winter time air pollution in the country” said Dr. Brian Moench, president of Utah Physicians for Healthy Environment. “Over 200 physicians asked Governor Herbert to declare this a public health emergency. These dust storms will be far worse, and once they start there will be nothing anyone can do to stop them” said Moench.
Officials from the Governor’s Administration claim they have no way of stopping the $15 billion water mining operation, but the courts are routinely used to challenge water projects between states, water suppliers and members of the public.
“The argument that signing the agreement gives Utah the best legal protection is a smokescreen” said Jana Richman, author of The Ordinary Truth, a novel published in 2012 about the Las Vegas pipeline. “The Governor’s office is willing to spend millions of taxpayer dollars in absurd legal battles trying to grab land from the federal government, but he’s too worried about legal costs to protect not only the water of Utahns but their health as well?”
“There is no single act Governor Herbert could take that would have a more negative impact on the lives of every Utahn than the signing of the agreement with SNWA. He cannot sign that agreement with the best interests of Utah residents at heart; there’s no way to reconcile that” said Richman.
Since the Governor just announced he will hold a series of public hearings across the State this summer to get input about water in Utah, his arbitrary April 1 deadline to make a decision on the destructive Las Vegas water mining operation appears intended to preclude the public from speaking against the agreement.
“This is one of Utah’s most critical water issues and most Utahns are opposed to giving Utah’s water to Las Vegas. ” said Christi Wedig, executive director of Citizens’ for Dixie’s Future. “Why would Governor Herbert hold public meetings but not let the public speak to one of the most important water issues of the decade before he makes it?” asked Wedig.
“This decision will touch all generations to come” said Lynn de Freitas, Executive Director of Friends of the Great Salt Lake. “At the very least, the People of Utah should be given the opportunity to be heard and the Governor should have the wisdom to listen before making his decision.”
History shows what happens when such water diversion projects are allowed to happen. Two of the most notorious examples include Owens Valley, CA and the Aral Sea in Uzbekistan, where previously healthy desert ecosystems completely dried up, turning large regions into dust bowls, devastating communities and severely impairing public health.
“Utah officials are already failing to protect us from dangerously polluted air. The last thing Gov. Herbert should do is green-light a water grab that could lead to dangerous dust storms and further threaten public health,” says Christopher Thomas, HEAL Utah Executive Director.
“Trout Unlimited is opposed to signing this agreement” said Bob Dibblee, President of the State Council of Trout Unlimited. “There are important populations of Bonneville Cutthroat Trout in the West Desert that will be impacted by this project.”
“Nevada water managers are ignoring the very studies they themselves have completed. Even without placing additional straws into various storage reservoirs, the demand will completely exhaust the available supply. A train wreck of destruction is assured if Governor Herbert approves this depletion” said John Weisheit, CoFounder of Living Rivers and the Colorado Riverkeeper.
“Among the many concerns we have about this agreement is that it will lower water tables in Utah and Nevada and impact the life-sustaining resources that sustain Great Basin National Park” said David Nimkin, Senior Director, Southwest Region for the National Parks Conservation Association.
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