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2006 U.S. Regional Water News


December, 2006

AP Special Report, Part II: Environmentalists: Stop Great Lakes damage before it happens

About five years before zebra mussels launched their invasion of the Great Lakes in the mid-1980s, Canadian researchers warned it was coming. But neither Canada nor the United States took steps to stop the tiny mollusk from hitchhiking to the lakes from Europe inside ballast tanks of oceangoing freighters. Now, controlling the pest costs taxpayers hundreds of millions a year. "The entire history of the Great Lakes is like that - suspecting a threat but not heeding the warning signs," says Cameron Davis, executive director of the Alliance for the Great Lakes. As both countries ponder the first significant update of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement in nearly two decades, a coalition of environmentalist groups has developed a wide-ranging set of proposed improvements. Among them: adding to the agreement's list of bedrock principles the "precautionary approach," or trying to head off potential threats before they materialize instead of waiting to clean up the mess afterward. AP/Marion Star_ 12/26/06

Great Lakes water quality agreement faces uncertain future: Part 1

AP EDITOR'S NOTE: It's been more than three decades since Canada and the United States first approved the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. While the lakes and their major tributaries are less dirty today than when the agreement was signed in 1972, the waters face threats that were barely visible then. Now the two countries are considering whether to update and strengthen the accord. In a two-day series, The Associated Press examines the agreement's successes and shortcomings.

When Canada and the United States approved the first version of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement in 1972, the running joke in Cleveland was that anyone unlucky enough to fall into the Cuyahoga River would decay rather than drown. The Cuyahoga, which meanders through the city before reaching Lake Erie, helped inspire the cleanup initiative by literally catching fire three years earlier. AP/Canton Repository_ 12/24/06

Justice flows into a parched California valley as Los Angeles begins to return water it diverted nearly a century ago

Water was returned to the Owens River on Dec. 6, when Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Inyo County Supervisor Susan Cash symbolically concluded the most celebrated water war in American history. Almost a century after Los Angeles diverted the Owens River into the city's aqueduct, Villaraigosa and Cash opened a gate and allowed some of that water to return to the river, starting a reclamation effort (62 riparian miles, 30 air miles) rivaled only by the Kissimmee River Restoration Project in the Florida Everglades. The story of the Owens River Valley and Los Angeles is one of the great narratives of the West, chronicled in the 1974 Hollywood classic "Chinatown." Starting in 1904, agents for the city of Los Angeles masquerading as businessmen and ranchers snapped up hundreds of thousands of acres in the valley, 230 miles north of the city. Los Angeles built an aqueduct and in 1913 diverted the Owens River, which is fed by the snowpack on the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the west, to slake its growing thirst. Another boom in the 1960s prompted the city to pump out the valley's ground water; a second aqueduct was completed in 1970. In total, the aqueducts deliver more than 430 million gallons a day to the city -- 70 percent of its water needs. Washington Post_ 12/20/06

Book Review: Engrossing book sheds light on Great Lakes water issues

THE GREAT LAKES WATER WARS. By Peter Annin. Island Press. 304 pages. $25.95
To those of us who have ever stood along the Great Lakes shoreline and given much thought to the seemingly endless sight of fresh water in front of us, it may be incomprehensible that this part of the country could ever have trouble quenching its thirst. But what we don't realize is that this region could become the battleground for an epic worldwide struggle in this century as the Earth's population continues to expand, its climate continues to change, and other water supplies continue to dry up or be rendered useless by pollution. Peter Annin gets it. Annin, who lives in Madison, Wis., walks readers through a detailed - albeit complex - history of projects intended to manipulate the lakes. Toledo Blade_ 12/17/06

Great Lakes compact at the center of great debate

A new multistate agreement working its way through state legislatures builds a legal wall around the largest source of fresh water in the world. The deal would ensure that no Great Lakes water is ever shipped outside the region — not in pipes to Arizona, not in ships to Asia, not even to Madison, Wis., or Columbus, Ohio. The Great Lakes Water Resources Compact was signed last December by the governors of the eight states that border the lakes — Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and New York — and the premiers of the Canadian provinces of Quebec and Ontario. The agreement requires approval of state legislatures before it is sent to Congress for final approval. Ohio's Legislature is expected this week to become the first to approve the pact. New York's may approve it later this month. The Great Lakes contain nine-tenths of the nation's fresh water and supply drinking water to 30 million people in Chicago, Toronto, Buffalo and elsewhere. USA Today_ 12/10/06

After 93 years, Los Angeles gives water back

At a dusty desert ceremony 235 miles north of the city Wednesday, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa will close a century-long chapter on what may be the biggest water grab in the history of the American West. Mr. Villaraigosa will push a button to send water flowing down a 62-mile stretch of rocky culverts and scrubland once known as the Lower Owens River. The move effectively turns the clock back to 1913, before city fathers diverted the water that flowed down from the Sierra-Nevada Mountains, and channeled it to Los Angeles. That diversion, orchestrated after years of backroom deals (chronicled in the 1974 classic, "Chinatown"), helped give rise to America's second-largest city. But it turned the mountain-ringed valley into a desert. Now, several officials call the current effort the most ambitious river restoration ever attempted in the US. Christian Science Monitor_ 12/6/06

Overpumped New Jersey Shore aquifer leads to salty water

The community of Keansburg is beginning to address the fact that after decades of pumping, salty water from the Raritan Bay is creeping into the aquifer its more than 10,000 residents use for drinking water. Last month, Keansburg embarked on a $25,000 study on how to remove sodium and chloride — the two ingredients found in table salt — from the borough's drinking water. Keansburg's increasingly salty drinking water, and the borough's considerations of whether to spend millions of dollars to reduce its salinity, could be a preview of what other Shore towns with an influx of year-round residents will face if preventive measures are not taken, said U.S. Geological Survey hydrologist Pierre Lacombe. Asbury Park Press_ 12/4/06

U.S. Rep. John Salazar to introduce legislation setting terms for Colorado Springs to expand Pueblo Reservoir

The posturing in the water war between Colorado Springs and Pueblo has been ratcheted up a notch, and the billion-dollar Southern Delivery System project appears to be farther from becoming a reality than it was only two short years ago. Last week, U.S. Rep. John Salazar, who represents Pueblo and much of the Western Slope, announced that he will introduce legislation during the next congressional session that spells out the terms and conditions that Colorado Springs would have to comply with in order to expand Pueblo Reservoir. The bill would require a federally funded study of the social, economic and environmental impacts of water transfers prior to any consideration of reservoir enlargement. Colorado Springs is part of the Fryingpan-Arkansas project (the federal project which built Pueblo Reservoir in the 1960s), Salazar said. But, he said, the city has an obligation to deal with the increased return flows into Fountain Creek that have resulted from the city’s growth. SDS manager Gary Bostrom flatly dismissed any such “storage facility” (i.e., a flood control dam on the Fountain) as expensive and impractical. Colorado Springs Business Journal_ 12/1/06

Colorado Springs, Colorado looking at new water options

A draft environmental impact statement for a proposed water delivery pipeline from Pueblo Dam will be delayed as Colorado Springs looks at its options for what would happen if the Bureau of Reclamation chooses a no-action alternative. The draft EIS for the Southern Delivery System was anticipated for the spring of 2007, but will now be delayed until the new alternative is submitted and evaluated. The no-action alternative originally submitted would involve building reservoirs on Williams Creek and Jimmy Camp Creek and treatment plants to create an indirect potable reuse system to recycle treated effluent so it could be returned to the drinking water supply. Colorado Springs determined water from the Denver Basin aquifer, the only source of new water now available without SDS, would not be sufficient to meet future demands, said Gary Bostrom, SDS project manager. Pueblo Chieftan_ 12/1/06

Wyoming agreement with Colorado and Nebraska over Platte River Basin water likely to spur law suits - water user group

Wyoming's decision to enter an agreement with Colorado and Nebraska over Platte River Basin water will almost certainly result in litigation, the spokesman for a Wyoming water users group said. Joe Glode, president of the Upper North Platte Water Users Association, said the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program offers no assurances that his members' water rights will be protected. The agreement, which is not yet final, requires Wyoming to guarantee 34,000 acre feet of space in Pathfinder Reservoir for downstream wildlife habitat in Nebraska. It allocates another 20,000 acre feet of space for discretionary use in Wyoming. Nebraska and Colorado also are contributing water and money to enhance habitat for the whooping crane, piping plover, least tern and pallid sturgeon in Nebraska. Glode is concerned that the water users he represents upstream from Pathfinder Reservoir will lose out in dry years because they have no place to store water. Casper Star-Tribune_ 11/30/06

Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe protests Nevada and California border water rights transfers

If the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe continues to protest water transfers in the Carson Valley and litigation follows, development involving water transfers along the Carson River upstream from Lahontan Reservoir could stop, said the general manager of Nevada's Carson Water Subconservancy District. The affected areas would include parts of Douglas and Lyon counties in Nevada, Alpine County in California, and Carson City. In protests to the state engineer, the tribe claims transfers reduce flows into Lahontan Reservoir 18 miles west of Fallon, Nevada. The requirement to keep Lahontan Reservoir full, in turn, requires more diversions from the Truckee River, which feeds Pyramid Lake. The tribe has protested at least 13 water transfers so far. The Carson Water Subconservancy District believes a study of the entire watershed - both surface water and groundwater - is needed. Record-Courier_ 11/24/06

Nevada Supreme Court panel rejects water transfer to support development

A Supreme Court panel ruled Wednesday that the state engineer did not properly justify the need to transfer water from the Sandy Valley basin to support economic development at nearby Primm in Southern Nevada. The Supreme Court reversed a ruling by Clark County District Judge David Wall and said residents of Sandy Valley have the right to a judicial review of the findings of then-State Engineer Hugh Ricci, who partially approved the request for an interbasin transfer of water. But the court also upheld the right of a third party, in this case the Vidler Water Co., to apply for water rights even if it isn't the party putting the resource to a beneficial use. Although Vidler had filed the application, the company said it was applying on behalf of the Primm South Real Estate Company, which owns approximately 825 acres along Interstate 15 south of Las Vegas. The towns of Sandy Valley and Primm are near the California border, but Sandy Valley is about 20 miles northwest of Primm. In upholding Vidler's right to apply for the water, however, the court adopted for Nevada what is called the "anti-speculation doctrine." That doctrine prohibits water rights applications from anyone who does not intend to put the water to their own benefit or who has no contractual or agency relationship with one who does. Vidler had such a relationship. Las Vegas Review-Journal_ 11/23/06

Las Vegas assures Elko County, Nevada it won't take its water; But what about in the future?

The Southern Nevada Water Authority board adopted a resolution promising to leave Elko County alone. The resolution, passed unanimously Thursday, promises that the Water Authority will not apply for ground water in Elko County, buy ranches to acquire existing water rights or obtain land and water through eminent domain or gifts. But the board has no power to "bind" future board members to that promise. The Water Authority has asked the state for the right to take more than 115,000 acre-feet - more than 32 billion gallons, or about a third of what it now takes from Lake Mead for nearly all needs in and around Las Vegas - annually from White Pine County, Elko County's neighbor. Residents of Elko County have been concerned that the Water Authority would seek water there, too, despite agency officials' repeated denials of any such plans. State Engineer Tracy Taylor is considering the Water Authority's applications to take 91,000 acre-feet annually from White Pine's Spring Valley. Protesters argue that the Water Authority should seek to conserve more water in Las Vegas or curb growth before looking to rural Nevada for more water. Las Vegas Sun_ 11/17/06

October, 2006

Duke Energy Corp. opposes request by North Carolina cities to draw water from the Catawba and Yadin rivers

Duke's opposition is surprising because state tests released in late August showed the transfer would have minimal impact on the river's water levels, even during record droughts. Those tests relied on Duke's scientific models. Kannapolis and Concord want to draw 22 million gallons of water daily from the two rivers. A Duke official outlines the company's opposition to the North Carolina Division of Water Resources. Transfer opponents contend the studies are biased, and they have pressed for more independent research. The request has sparked vigorous opposition from towns and counties all along the Catawba River, from northwestern North Carolina to central South Carolina, as well as from the state of South Carolina. The N.C. Environmental Management Commission is expected to rule on the transfer in January. State and federal authorities license Duke to manage the Catawba, which is the region's main source of drinking water. Bizjournal/Yahoo_ 10/30/06

Eastern Idaho farmers unsure of future after water ruling

Officials and farmers in eastern Idaho say that if they are banned from pumping underground water, thousands of acres of farmland would go dry, cities would struggle to find drinking water and the area's economy would blow away.
At odds are surface water users with older, senior water rights, and groundwater users with more recent water rights who pump water from a decreasing supply in the Eastern Snake River Plain Aquifer. By state law, water users with senior rights must be allocated their water before people with junior water rights receive theirs. Surface water users contend that pumping from the aquifer causes a decrease in flow from the hundreds of springs that feed area rivers, thus leading to reduced water for surface users. They formed the Surface Water Coalition and sued the Idaho Department of Water Resources in August 2005, and in June 2006, 5th District Judge Barry Wood agreed with them. In August, Wood refused to halt his earlier ruling, and the Idaho Supreme Court refused to stay Wood's ruling, but is holding an expedited hearing on Dec. 8. In asking for the stay, the water resources department estimated 55,000 acres of farmland could go dry if groundwater users were forced to stop pumping, and some towns could face water shortages. The Eastern Snake River Plain Aquifer is 60 miles wide and 170 miles long, covers about 10,800 square miles and holds about 250 million acre-feet of water. AP/Salt Lake Tribune_ 10/24/06

Report says southern Nevada water pipeline plan flawed

Southern Nevada water authorities don't have enough research to predict the cost or effectiveness of a proposed multibillion dollar water pipeline from rural Nevada to Las Vegas, according to a report released Tuesday by environmental groups. The report, commissioned by the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, highlights what it calls missing "key facts" and unknowns in the Southern Nevada Water Authority's plan to pipe 180,000 acre-feet of water a year from rural counties to accommodate growth in the Las Vegas area. The report says water officials don't know how many "secondary" pipelines will be constructed or how many groundwater production wells are necessary. The complete cost of power facilities and lines has not been factored in to the estimated $2 billion price tag commonly cited by water authority officials, it said. Experts do not agree on whether there is enough water in the rural areas to meet southern Nevada's growing needs, said Christina Roessler, a water policy consultant who wrote report. AP/Las Vegas Sun_ 10/24/06

Book: Great Lakes water fight to heat up

An era of warring over the Great Lakes is under way _ and will intensify as the global water shortage worsens. The region's way of life hangs in the balance as leaders grapple with how to preserve what amounts to nearly one-fifth of the world's fresh surface water. That is the premise of "The Great Lakes Water Wars" by Peter Annin, a former Newsweek Correspondent. The book is published by Island Press. Representatives of the eight Great Lakes states last year signed a compact to ban most diversions of water outside the drainage basin, require each state to regulate water use and establish a regional standard for large-scale water withdrawals. The Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec pledged separately to adopt the same policies. But the compact still faces an uphill climb, needing approval of legislatures in each state and the U.S. Congress. AP/Houston Chronicle_ 10/7/06

September, 2006

Appeals court tells Los Angeles to restore the Owens River

A state Court of Appeal panel late Wednesday gave Los Angeles a strong push to move ahead on restoring a 62-mile stretch of the Lower Owens River by upholding a court order that would ban the city from using a key aqueduct if it continues delaying the project. The ruling in the years-long legal dispute was hailed as a victory for Owens Valley residents, environmental groups and state officials fed up with the city Department of Water and Power's failure to comply with a legal agreement to restore the once-vibrant Inyo County river. The restoration effort would be one of the largest ever attempted in the country. The legal dispute underlines acrimony that has boiled in the Owens Valley since the early 1900s, when the city had agents pose as farmers and ranchers to buy land and water rights in the valley, then began building an aqueduct to slake the thirst of the growing metropolis more than 200 miles to the south. The river was reduced to a trickle in 1913 when the Owens River Aqueduct began delivering water to Los Angeles. Los Angeles Times_ 9/28/06 (logon required)

Nevada's destiny debated as water hearings wrap up

The state engineer was urged Monday to approve a plan to pump billions of gallons of rural groundwater to Las Vegas by proponents who said Nevada's destiny is at stake. Critics said the advocates had failed to make their case and urged caution to avoid an environmental disaster. The conflicting assessments were aired as the engineer heard closing arguments on the Southern Nevada Water Authority's bid to get about 91,000 acre-feet of water yearly from Spring Valley, near the Utah border in rural White Pine County. Matt Kenna of the Western Environmental Law Center said experts showed during two weeks of hearings that the plan would likely cause an excessive drawdown of the water table in Spring Valley and lead to devastating impacts. During the hearings, critics likened the proposal to a early-1900s Los Angeles water grab that parched California's Owens Valley. Pat Mulroy, the water authority's general manager, and others said it wouldn't be in the public interest to dry up Spring Valley, and Kenna said that State Engineer Tracy Taylor ‘‘needs to take them at their word.'' Water authority attorney Paul Taggart said the big question is ‘‘whether Nevada is going to control its own destiny'' or find itself at the mercy of other states unwilling to share some of their Colorado River water. The river is the main water source for Las Vegas. Mohave Daily News_ 9/25/06

Nevada water hearings wrap up; Closing arguments due Monday

Friday's session on the Southern Nevada Water Authority's bid to get more than 90,000 acre-feet of water from Spring Valley, near the Utah border in White Pine County, included a caution against overpumping from prominent water expert John Bredehoeft. Bredehoeft, a consultant who worked for the U.S. Geological Survey for 32 years, noted that both the USGS and hydrologist Tom Meyers did studies indicating the SNWA pumping would produce large drawdowns that would hurt current Spring Valley water users. Also testifying was White Pine County Commissioner Gary Perea, who said advocates of the water-pumping are "blinded by greed" and shouldn't be allowed to take a resource that his county needs for its future growth. Advocates of the $2 billion water diversion plan say a drought has cut heavily into southern Nevada's share of Colorado River water, mandating the need for other sources within the state. They also warn that any indication that Las Vegas might not get the water it needs to deal with growth could scare off investors and lead to an economic slowdown that would affect the entire state. AP/Las Vegas Sun_ 9/22/06

Wrangle over well water isn't drying up
The farm crisis on Colorado's northern Plains is creating ill will among two groups of farmers - those who obeyed the rules and those who kept pumping water from the ground despite warnings of drought and worries about supply.  The first group says it has lost money the past three years because the water taken from the wells drained the local aquifer and left them without the water they needed.  Those who kept pumping say they were only taking water that was promised to them when they put in their wells, many of which have been shut down by the state.  Rocky Mountain News_9/21/06

Surprise breakthrough for Southern Nevada in fight to pipe rural water to Las Vegas

The federal government announced it is dropping all opposition to the plan. The Monday announcement from the federal government came as hearings began in Carson City on the pipeline plan. The state water engineer is holding the hearings to decide whether to allow Southern Nevada to tap groundwater basins hundreds of miles to the north. At the beginning of the hearings, the Department of the Interior announced four federal agencies were dropping protests. They include Fish and Wildlife, the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Indian Affairs. In exchange, the Southern Nevada Water Authority has agreed to a comprehensive monitoring program. Opponents of the plan gathered outside of the hearings to protest what they are calling a "water theft" or a "water grab." KLAS-TV_ 9/11/06

Las Vegas' battle for rural water heads to capital

The war over water enters a new battlefield Monday as advocates and opponents directly debate Southern Nevada's controversial plan to take billions of gallons from wells in the rural, east-central part of the state and deliver them more than 200 miles south to the Las Vegas Valley. Nevada State Engineer Tracy Taylor will hear arguments for and against the Southern Nevada Water Authority's $2 billion plan to draw water from the deep aquifer beneath White Pine County's Spring Valley. Half of the 180,000 acre-feet - nearly 33 billion gallons - the Water Authority wants would come from this single valley. Taylor is the state's chief administrator for such water issues, essentially the judge who must decide who gets how much. For the Water Authority, approval is critical. It would provide a buffer from reliability concerns about the drought- stricken Colorado River, which now provides nearly all of Southern Nevada's water. The planned network of wells and pipelines through White Pine, Lincoln and Clark counties would also bring the juice to nourish continued urban expansion. Opponents do not trust the Water Authority's promises to mitigate and limit environmental and property damage. They compare the program to the notorious Los Angeles purchase and exploitation of water rights in the Owens Valley, 200 miles north in the Sierra Nevada. That engineering effort, completed in 1913, provided the water to fuel the California city's early boom but turned the Owens Valley into a dust bowl. Las Vegas Sun_ 9/10/06

In the U.S. West, a water fight between Montana and Wyoming is over quality, not quantity

The search for a type of natural gas called coal bed methane has come to this part of the world in a big way. The gas is found in subterranean coal, and companies are pumping water out of the coal and stripping the gas mixed with it. Once the gas is out, the huge volumes of water become waste in a region that gets less than 12 inches of rain a year. In some cases, the water has benefited ranchers, who use it to water their livestock. But there is far more than cows can drink, and it needs to be dumped. The companies have been pumping the wastewater into drainages that flow into the Tongue River, as well as two other small rivers that flow north into Montana, the Powder and Little Powder Rivers. Ranchers say the water contains high levels of sodium and if it is spread on a field, it can destroy the ability to grow anything. The companies say that sodium is not the problem ranchers have made it out to be and that the Montana environmental standards cannot be met without great difficulty. They have filed suit in federal and Montana court to overturn the regulations. The fight pits Montana against Wyoming. Wyoming has thrown the door open to coal bed methane producers, with 20,000 wells in the basin. Wyoming says its water quality standards, while different from those in Montana, are more reasonable and still protect water quality. New York Times_ 9/10/06 (logon required)

Las Vegas water plan reminds critics of Los Angeles' thirst and the Owens Valley

Greg James, an attorney from eastern California's Owens Valley, and the former water department director for Inyo County, warned area residents and visiting legislators last week to be skeptical of the case being made by the Southern Nevada Water Authority to tap groundwater resources in eastern Nevada's arid valleys - including some that sit underneath Utah's west desert - and ship it 200 miles south to Las Vegas via a pipeline network.The Southern Nevada proposal, he says, has been taken from the same basic sales blueprint Los Angeles officials used nearly a century ago to wrest water from his community, with disastrous consequences. Salt Lake Tribune_ 9/4/06

August, 2006

Settlement will provide water for California's parched San Joaquin River

"Remember this, water is California's most valuable possession — we need every drop that falls on the mountains and on the plains." The speaker was Gov. Earl Warren. The year was 1949. The occasion was the opening of two giant valves at the base of Friant Dam, for the first time sending the cold, Sierra-fed waters of the San Joaquin River pouring into an irrigation canal big enough to float a destroyer. By the time the 151-mile canal running to Bakersfield, the Friant-Kern, was inaugurated two years after Warren's speech with a fly-over of 100 planes and flotilla of bathing beauties in cruising power boats, one of California's greatest rivers was in its death throes, swallowed virtually whole by the nation's biggest irrigation project. Now, thanks to a settlement in a tortured, nearly two-decade-long court fight, the San Joaquin is about to get some of its water back. Los Angeles Times_ 8/20/06 (logon required)

North Georgia water-users to discuss drawing up master plan

A coalition of North Georgia water-users wants to create a 15-county master plan to protect and develop supplies as the region grows.  At a Tuesday meeting in Calhoun, the Northwest Georgia Regional Water Resources Partnership will ask permit-holders to match a $300,000 federal grant to help create a watershed assessment plan for the Coosa, Tennessee and Tallapoosa river basins. Permit holders range from governments providing public water and sewer services to industries, such as Temple-Inland and Georgia Power Co., that use the resource in daily operations.  Rome News_8/19/06

Mormon Church in Utah seeks delay in Nevada water plan

The Mormon church says groundwater should not be pumped from Nevada's Spring Valley area to Las Vegas until it is determined that it will not harm the church and other water-rights holders. Church attorneys have asked the Nevada state engineer to delay awarding a permit to the Southern Nevada Water Authority until a U.S. Geological Survey study of the region's groundwater resources is completed next year. The plan is part of the water authority's larger "Clark, Lincoln and White Pine Counties Groundwater Development Project," which would pipe about 200,000 acre-feet of water per year from seven hydrologic basins, including Spring Valley, with most going to the Las Vegas area. Another piece of the project is in Snake Valley, which straddles the Utah border. Ranchers on both sides of the Utah-Nevada line and environmental groups have opposed the project, fearing it will dry up water tables and destroy the area's ecosystem and ranching industry. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints owns the Cleveland-Rogers Ranch in White Pine County. AP/Las Vegas Sun_ 8/18/06

Wyoming state engineer rejects Montana claim to river water

The Wyoming state engineer has denied Montana's request -- based on a 50-year-old water compact -- for more water from Yellowstone River tributaries. In a letter to Rich Moy, acting administrator of the Water Resources Division in Montana's Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, Wyoming State Engineer Patrick Tyrrell said the drought in the region left Wyoming no water to release under the 1950 compact. In fact, he said, people with water rights dating to 1900 were being left dry because rights dating back to the 1880s were being filled first. AP/Billings Gazette_ 8/17/06

Las Vegas water agency paid $22 million for ranch and water rights in White Pine County

Southern Nevada water officials are defending the decision to pay $22 million to a land and water development company for a 7,150-acre ranch and its water rights in rural White Pine County. Vidler Water Co. reaped a big profit after paying $4.5 million in a 2000 bankruptcy sale, fixing fences and an irrigation system, and selling one of the largest ranches in the sparsely populated Spring Valley. Southern Nevada Water authority spokesman J.C. Davis called the deal "a tremendous bargain" for Vidler, but he said the primary objective for the authority was to acquire property and water resources in Spring Valley, 240 miles north of Las Vegas. It came with some 12,000 acre-feet of surface water rights and more than 1,200 acre-feet of groundwater rights. AP/Las Vegas Sun_ 8/14/06

Colorado water plan at loggerheads

An ambitious water-sharing plan proposed last year by Western Colorado leaders has stalled as Denver Water has yet to make a formal counteroffer. The lack of a response threatens to prolong decades of regional bickering over stretched-thin water resources. A coalition of Western Slope officials presented Denver Water with an offer in May 2005. It was aimed at protecting their supplies while giving the utility a chance to develop more projects in the high country. The proposal marked the first time various Western Slope factions had come together to negotiate, and it was supposed to usher in a new era of Colorado water talks. Denver Water officials, however, say some of the same complex, contentious water projects that have tripped up both sides for decades are proving just as difficult this time around. Among the utility's chief sticking points are future allocations from the Green Mountain and Wolcott reservoirs. Denver Post_ 8/12/06

In Utah, the global warming question is 'what about the water?'

More than any other aspect of global warming, water will likely be what defines the issue in Utah and the rest of the Intermountain West in the coming decades. The nation's most arid and sparsely populated region has been transformed by explosive growth and development in recent decades, growth that has been based largely on an ability to manage scarce and vitally important water. But those resources are increasingly under strain as such cities as Las Vegas, Phoenix and, closer to home, St. George, continue to expand at unprecedented rates. A long-term drought, one the region may still be in the grips of, got the attention of federal and state water managers earlier this decade. Now climate change - the prospect of rising temperatures, less snowmelt and, perhaps, less precipitation - is prompting further reappraisals. Salt Lake Tribune_ 8/8/06

July, 2006

South Carolina regional water system in limbo

The chairman of the Lake Marion Regional Water Agency says the effort to build a regional water system is in “limbo” as officials wait for the federal money needed to move the project forward. A total of $6.5 million in federal funds was appropriated to be spent on LMRWA this year, but funding for the project was halted two months ago because of rule changes within the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers. The amount would have been enough to complete the $25.4 million water treatment plant and lay down lines to the town of Santee. However, the project received only $2 million of the money due to the rule changes. The Corps rules were changed, in part, because of the need to prioritize funding for hurricane relief efforts in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. An estimated 100 projects came to a stop nationally. Times and Democrat_ 7/30/06

Great Basin National Park fights to keep water from going to Southern Nevada

Attorneys for the Southern Nevada Water Authority say the National Park doesn't have water rights. The argument came in the Water Authority's 44-page motion seeking to quash various protests against the agency's plans to pump water to Las Vegas from rural White Pine County, which is home to the national park. An attorney for the opponents called the Water Authority's motion, which is in preparation for the agency's hearings before the Nevada state engineer in September, an effort to limit examination of environmental issues. Las Vegas Sun_ 7/28/06

Water rights activists say public 'excluded' from Nevada-Utah water deal

Water rights activists in Nevada and Utah raised questions Wednesday about a plan to split up water rights in Snake Valley, on the border between the two states, and in the process help get more water to booming Las Vegas. The Great Basin Water Network sent a letter to U.S. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., urging him to seek a delay in a pending compact between the two states that would apportion the water rights in the valley, near Great Basin National Park. The letter adds the compact would "ease the way" for the Southern Nevada Water Authority to start drawing on eastern Nevada water via a planned $2 billion pipeline to Las Vegas. The letter also states that the public was "largely excluded" from discussions about the agreement until word of its existence was leaked inadvertently on a government Web site. AP/Las Vegas Sun_ 7/26/06

Las Vegas water plans have 16 years of impact in White Pine County

The Southern Nevada Water Authority's plans to pump ground water from White Pine County have roiled the rural area for years. How divisive is the issue? Enough to have triggered an unsuccessful recall attempt in 2004 for two commissioners and the White Pine district attorney for the sin of just talking to the Water Authority. The authority says without White Pine County's ground water, Las Vegas and its suburbs will run out of water for new growth within a decade. It also wants the water to diversify its near-total dependence on the drought-stricken Colorado River. Las Vegas Sun_ 7/15/06

Nevada, Utah could reach water deal soon

Nevada and Utah are quietly in talks to divide water resources in a shared valley 250 miles north of Las Vegas, and the negotiations could lead to an agreement before year's end - a prospect that makes some in the affected valley unhappy. The talks are an outgrowth of the Southern Nevada Water Authority's $2 billion plan to bring water from rural White Pine County to Las Vegas. Snake Valley is the epicenter of resistance to the ground water pumping plan. Ranchers, farmers and environmentalists have forged an alliance to oppose the Water Authority's plan. Las Vegas Sun_ 7/8/06

Atlanta eyes Savannah River as water source
Recent indications that Atlanta is eyeing the Savannah River lend new urgency to South Carolina's talks with Georgia over the use of the Lowcountry's primary source for drinking water.  Atlanta long has denied its interest in the river that forms the Georgia-South Carolina border. But with the booming city's main source of drinking water, the Chattahoochee River, caught in a tri-state legal war, city officials have begun discussing the possibility of building a pipeline from the Savannah River to Atlanta, at least in the long term.  The river isn't in danger of running dry. But Atlanta's potential interest in its water means South Carolina should push now for a formal agreement with Georgia that would guarantee South Carolina rights to about half of the river's water, Beaufort-Jasper Water and Sewer Authority general manager Dean Moss said Monday.  "The idea is to get this deal done now before Atlanta overtly claims the river," said Moss, who is part of the six-person team representing South Carolina in the ongoing talks. "That way, their fight is between Atlanta, Augusta and Savannah, and not us."  Islandpacket.com_7/5/06

Low water in North America's Great Lakes causes worry

Water levels in North America's five Great Lakes -- Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario -- declined in 1998 and have remained low, forcing ships to take on lighter loads and sparking concern about shorelines and wetlands in the Great Lakes, the world's largest supply of freshwater and a major commercial shipping route for Canada and the United States. Water levels in the Great Lakes have always fluctuated, but experts point to climate change, dredging, private shoreline alterations and even lingering effects of glaciers to explain the latest changes -- the decline of Lake Huron and slightly higher water levels in Lake Erie, into which Huron flows. Reuters_ 7/3/06

June, 2006

USGS study cautious about Las Vegas pumping water from the Great Basin aquifer

A new report issued by the U.S. Geological Survey indicates that numerous areas in and around Great Basin National Park could be affected by a groundwater pumping project that has been proposed by Las Vegas water officials. Opponents of the project who live in eastern Nevada and western Utah say the study confirms their worst suspicions about the Southern Nevada Water Authority's plan to tap groundwater in the Snake and Spring valleys near the park and send it to Las Vegas via a 200-mile pipeline. The USGS study, released last week, identified five locations in Great Basin and another five outside the park that are "likely susceptible" to groundwater withdrawals, though it did not attempt to quantify how big a withdrawal would be necessary to trigger problems. The Southern Nevada Water Authority has proposed taking 25,000 acre-feet per year out of the giant aquifer that straddles the Utah-Nevada state line - which officials say would leave plenty for the region's ecosystem and scattered cattle ranchers who reside and earn their living there. Salt Lake Tribune_ 6/24/06

Nevada water official rules against Las Vegas well plan

In a victory for conservationists, the state has rejected a bid by the Southern Nevada Water Authority to change the location of proposed wells to provide more water for the booming Las Vegas Valley. State Engineer Hugh Ricci, who recently announced his retirement, rejected a request by the water authority to approve well locations along U.S. 95, east of Indian Springs. The request was aimed at saving millions of dollars piping the water across a wildlife refuge and a military bombing range. Rose Strickland of the Sierra Club's Toiyabe Chapter said Wednesday the decision effectively means the water authority can pump only about 2,100 acre feet of water instead of the 8,100 acre feet it hoped to pump utilizing the point-of-diversion change. Water authority representatives argued that several basins in Clark and Lincoln counties are linked and that proposed wells and water owned by the authority in the area are in the same flow system even if in different groundwater basins. AP/Las Vegas Sun_ 6/21/06

San Antonio, Texas, boom may dry up as water ebbs and people pour in

Water supplies are declining from San Antonio to Austin, the Texas capital, as a mushrooming population and drought conditions strain underground reservoirs, threatening to stall the region's growth. San Antonio is the third-fastest-growing large city in the U.S., according to Census Bureau estimates, and Austin has the eighth-fastest growth for a metropolitan area. Expansions by companies including Dell Inc. and Toyota Motor Corp. are fueling a housing boom. Water systems aren't keeping up with the new subdivisions, and wells used by some homeowners are drying up. Central Texas received only two-thirds of its usual rainfall last year and is running behind again this year, leaving reservoir levels below normal, according to the Lower Colorado River Authority, which regulates surface water. If shortages go unabated, San Antonio will create 34,230 fewer jobs by 2030 than if supplies were adequate, according to a state estimate. The San Antonio and Austin areas get much of their water from the Edwards-Trinity aquifer system, overlapping reservoirs that extend from southeastern Oklahoma to western Texas. Bloomberg.com_ 6/19/06

Experts: Illinois ethanol water demands a concern

City officials in Champaign and Urbana took notice when they heard that an ethanol plant proposed nearby would use about 2 million gallons of water per day, most likely from the aquifer that also supplies both cities. The proposal for a 100 million gallon-per-year ethanol plant is just one of many that have popped up in the past several months across Illinois, which already has seven operating plants and is the nation's No. 2 ethanol producer after Iowa. High oil prices and support from Washington have inspired such interest in the corn-based gasoline additive that the Illinois Corn Growers Association now says at least 30 plants are in various stages of planning across the state. All will use a lot of water. AP/Daily Democrat_ 6/18/06

Southern California's powerful thirst: 2 million new households in next 20 years

In the past, finding water for all those extra showers, toilets and lawn sprinklers would have been easy: Look beyond a mountain range, find a wild river and divert it to Los Angeles. Water customers across the region — including vineyards, housing subdivisions, parks, restaurants and farms — are in the midst of an ambitious push to find more efficient ways to use the state's most precious natural resource. Indeed, Southern California today gets half of its water from imported sources, compared with two-thirds a decade ago. Per capita water use in the region was 205 gallons a day 10 years ago; today it's about 175 gallons. Doing more with less has become the cornerstone of water management policy for one of the biggest and driest megalopolises on the continent. Los Angeles Times_ 6/11/06 (logon required)

Study: Southern New Mexico could have water problems by 2025

The US Bureau of Reclamation says southern New Mexico around Las Cruces could face water supply problems by 2025. The bureau says the problems could arise as demand outpaces the water in the Rio Grande. The head of the bureau's El Paso office, Filberto Cortez, says the agency classifies the area as facing moderate problems, but that could change. The bureau is re-evaluating its forecast in light of recent drought. AP/ABC7_ 6/6/06

Plan collapses to bring Colorado Western Slope water to the South Platte River

The plan also would have allowed wells along the basin to pump.

Objectors to the plan -- including the Cities of Sterling and Boulder and several irrigation districts and ditch companies -- did not withdraw their objections, and the plan fell apart Friday. The plan had called for bringing about 10,000 acre-feet of water from Windy Gap Reservoir on the Western Slope to Front Range areas and exchanging it for water those areas would then release down the river to allow wells to pump. Fort Collins, Thornton and some other Front Range entities stepped up to allow the exchange, but five of the original 36 objectors -- Boulder, Sterling, Henrylyn Irrigation District at Hudson, Centennial Water and Sanitation District and the DuCommun Business Trust at Leadville -- stuck to their position. Fort Morgan Times_ 6/5/06

Arsenic contaminates 5% of private wells in southeast Wisconsin

Hazardous levels of arsenic contaminate about one of every 20 private wells in southeast Wisconsin, leading state water experts to urge that regular testing be done to detect any presence of the dangerous carcinogen. Drinking water with elevated amounts of arsenic over a period of years may increase health problems, including anemia, nerve and blood vessel damage, digestive problems and a variety of cancers, including skin, prostate and bladder.
Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel_ 6/4/06

May, 2006

California's Hoopa Valley Tribe protests Westlands Water District grab on Trinity River; Fisheries endangered

The Hoopa Valley Tribe has asked the California Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) to not renew the long-term contracts with the largest consumers of irrigation water  in the Central Valley until those contracts are revised to protect the Trinity River. The tribe also has called on the contractors to stop trying to take water and money from the restoration of the Trinity River.  The Westlands Water District and San Luis & Delta Water Authority in the Central Valley have shown a “persistent antagonism,” towards plans for restoration of the river, which bisects the reservation, according to Hoopa Valley Tribal Chairman Clifford Lyle Marshall. In an April 24 letter to the U.S. Department of Interior Marshall asserted the proposed water contract language contradicts laws and court decisions guaranteeing enough water be left in the Trinity River to support the river’s fishery.  “For decades the BOR has allowed these water districts to pillage and ruin the natural fishery of the Trinity River. Now, after Congressional action and litigation ordering the restoration of the river these contractors are trying to drill a water line in the back door of the bureaucracy to circumvent the law,” said Marshall.  “The fish populations in the Trinity and Klamath rivers are at such a crisis low level this year’s commercial fishing season had been almost been eliminated. This year’s small salmon run is because of the devastating after effects of the 2002 fish kill,” said Marshall. Press Release_5/17/06

Fingers pointed at Sanibel, Florida water meeting on the Caloosahatchee River estuary

At a Sanibel City Council meeting that featured blunt language and finger pointing Tuesday, water managers explained steps being taken to protect the Caloosahatchee River estuary from environmental disaster during the 2006 hurricane season. Carol Wehle, executive director of the South Florida Water Management District pledged to approach private land owners to see whether they would be interested in using their land for water storage. When levels in Lake Okeechobee rise, water managers must release water down the Caloosahatchee, the St. Lucie River and south into the Everglades to prevent flooding. Council members were angry that the Caloosahatchee received the highest percentage of the water during massive releases of nutrient laden fresh water following last year’s hurricane season. Those releases caused micro- and macro algae blooms, damaged and killed seagrasses and disrupted the balance of fresh and salt water in the estuary. The News-Press_ 5/16/06

April, 2006

Colorado House panel OKs charter for in-state water compacts

Hoping to someday end Colorado's in-state battles over scarce water, a House committee on Monday approved an unprecedented charter for compacts between users in different river basins, meant to bring together groups ranging from fishermen to farmers. Battles for limited water supplies can be fierce in the West, often pitting fast-growing cities that want water for drinking and lawn-watering against other groups that depend on farming and recreation for their well-being. Water users and providers who have been at each other's throats for years forged a plan that will force them to discuss the best ways to keep water in Colorado and reduce the impact on our water basins, said Marc Catlin, a member of the Inter Basin Compact Committee that drew up the proposed charter. AP/Rocky Mountain News_ 4/25/06

U.S.-Canada committee drafts proposals to fairly allocate rivers' water
A U.S.-Canada committee has drafted proposals intended to help ensure fairness in the allocation of water from the St. Mary-Milk River system near the Montana-Alberta border.
The committee was established in 2004 after Montana officials contended too little of the water went to the state's irrigators and other consumers. Alberta's environmental agency said the province took no water to which it was not entitled. Proposals of the International St. Mary-Milk Rivers Administrative Measures Task Force are in a technical, 125-page report released this week.  The St. Mary River originates in Glacier National Park, and flows from Montana into Alberta. The Milk flows from Montana into Alberta, then back into Montana. The St. Mary Canal in Montana links the rivers, which provide water for various uses on both sides of the border.  Canada.com_4/19/06

Texas board OKs Dallas region water plan
The people who would be most affected by the proposed Marvin Nichols Reservoir don’t want it, but that didn’t make much difference to the Texas Water Development Board.  Despite protests from landowners, environmentalists and timber industry executives, the board voted 4-1 Tuesday to include the controversial reservoir proposed for Red River County in the water plan for Region C. Region C includes Dallas/Fort Worth and the North Texas area.  The controversy over the reservoir will continue, a state lawmaker said.  The proposed reservoir has been floated to address long-term water needs in the Dallas vicinity, supporters say.

However, opponents say it would flood thousands of acres and does not protect the state’s natural resources. They say other strategies like conservation are better.  Texarkana Gazette_4/19/06

Wyoming vs. Montana: Wyoming asks EPA to reject Montana methane water quality rules

Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal has asked the Environmental Protection Agency to reject Montana water quality rules that he says would severely limit natural gas production in Wyoming. However, Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer said his state intends to stick by its rules and said he's not pleased Wyoming took the dispute to federal regulators. Coal-bed methane production involves pumping water from the ground to release the gas. Much of the water flows into rivers and streambeds. The industry has grown rapidly in recent years in northern Wyoming, and Montana increasingly has expressed concern about the quality of the water flowing into the state from Wyoming in the Powder and Tongue rivers. AP/Jackson Hole Star Tribune_ 4/8/06

March, 2006

Las Vegas water grab could drain Utah aquifer  
As Las Vegas runs out of water, the city plans to drill wells and pump water they say is not currently being used. It's a proposal Dean Baker, of Baker, Nev. said is wrong scientifically and morally.  Baker lives on the Nevada side of the border, but his farm is mostly on the nearby Utah side. For years he's heard every large valley is overdrawn. If Las Vegas builds its pipeline he's convinced it will dry out the aquifer throughout the area, all the way north to Tooele County.  "We think it will lower the water table to the point some of our lower springs will quit and some of our meadows will dry up. Our valley flows into the Great Salt Lake," Baker said.  Environmental regulators fear too that the fragile springs of the desert between Tooele County and White Pine County, Nev., will dry up if thirsty Las Vegas is allowed to drink with impunity.  "There is no question," Boyd Clayton technical services manager for the Utah Division of Water Rights said, "that the water those wells will appropriate is water that has historically run into Utah and been used in Utah."  Tooele Transcript Bulletin_3/30/06

Water war takes new turn
In a new skirmish in a long-running water war, Missouri is challenging the latest campaign by thirsty North Dakota to tap into the Missouri River.  Missouri officials strongly object to a federal study that proposes tapping the Missouri among several options if serious drought strikes the Great Plains.  A public comment period on the study was extended last week until April 14 and the Interior Department will make a final decision later this year. Proposing to divert the Missouri would renew a fierce battle in Congress over who owns what flows in America's longest river.  To Missourians, the amount of water to be taken is less important than the precedent it would set and the go-ahead for North Dakota to resume building elaborate plumbing that could be used for much larger diversions.  "If you can put a straw in the Missouri River with justification this poorly thought out, you can put in as many straws as you want," said Joe Engeln, a Missouri Department of Natural Resources analyst.  In a preview of their formal objections, Missouri officials argued that the study vastly overestimates North Dakota's future growth and fails to consider the needs downstream.  The Mercury News_3/29/06

Arizona water law may be key hurdle to development of Las Vegas suburb

A Las Vegas suburb planned for Arizona's northwestern Mohave County is drawing intense scrutiny from state and local officials who worry that there is not enough water for the more than 160,000 homes developers want to build. The Arizona Corporation Commission, the only agency that can enforce water-supply rules in rural communities, is examining the private water company formed to serve the first wave of homes. Without an operating certificate from the commission, the developer, Las Vegas-based Rhodes Homes, can't start building houses. Meanwhile, the state's top water agency last week informed the two developers with the biggest plans that they have so far failed to prove that they can provide enough water for even one-third of the number of houses on the drawing board. Developers could still build homes as long as they tell prospective buyers that the state could not conclude there was adequate water to sustain the subdivisions for 100 years. Arizona Republic_ 2/27/06

State resources control board threatens to reduce water supplies to southern California unless long-delayed salinity limits are met

The State Water Resources Control Board threatened to take steps that could curb water shipments to Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley if long-sought water quality standards aren't met in the troubled Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. But state and federal water managers protested, saying the board was holding them accountable for pollution they didn't create. The state Department of Water Resources operates the State Water Project, which along with the federal Central Valley Project pumps enough water from the delta east of San Francisco to supply two out of three Californians and much of Central Valley agriculture. High salinity levels caused by agricultural drainage into the delta and its feeder rivers have long been a problem in the south delta, particularly for farmers who draw irrigation water from delta channels. Los Angeles Times_ 2/17/06 (logon required)

January, 2006

Commissioners in Nevada's financially strapped White Pine County receptive to Las Vegas water talks

Southern Nevada Water Authority chief Pat Mulroy has proposed pumping water from the rural county to Las Vegas. A majority of commissioners said they thought the time has come to sit down and talk. It's a sentiment that two years ago might have triggered a recall effort. But Mulroy proposed a combination of environmental protections and financial compensation for the rural county. Last year, White Pine became the first Nevada county to declare a severe financial emergency and turn control of its finances over to the Nevada Department of Taxation. AP/KRNV 4_ 1/16/06

Report warns of limits on water supply to Chicago suburbs

Water supplies could run out in at least 11 townships in Chicago's outer suburbs by 2020 due to expanding population and development, according to a study released Monday that urges the state to formulate a comprehensive strategy to better understand and maximize its water supply. The report comes as Illinois continues to endure one of the most severe droughts in state history. Overall, Illinois is considered a water-rich state and it sits on Lake Michigan, one of the world's largest bodies of fresh water. But federal regulations cap how much of Lake Michigan can be tapped. In Chicago's expanding suburbs, the potential water supply problems generally crop up where the pipes linking to Lake Michigan end. Furthermore, communities, counties and private companies currently manage water supply for their areas in what amounts to a fragmented, inconsistent and inefficient manner, said the two-year report by the Campaign for Sensible Growth, Metropolitan Planning Council and Openlands Project and funded by the Joyce Foundation. Chicago Tribune_ 1/10/06 (logon required)


US Regional Water News 2006
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