Behind the scene these environmental groups are fighting SUEZ today one of the largest for-profit-water-purveyors on planet Earth … the scale is unfairly tipped

Behind the scene these environmental groups are fighting SUEZ today one of the largest for-profit-water-purveyors on planet Earth … the scale is unfairly tipped

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Environmental groups’ letters unlikely to change water pipeline plans

BY HENRY BREAN…LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL…Posted: Oct. 3, 2012 | 4:54 p.m. …http://www.lvrj.com/news/environmental-groups-letters-unlikely-to-change-water-pipeline-plans-172568571.html

A trio of environmental groups have flooded federal regulators with letters opposing plans to siphon rural Nevada groundwater to feed Las Vegas, but the gesture is unlikely to change anything.

Penny Woods, project manager for the Bureau of Land Management in Nevada, said the 40,000 form letters were "not substantive" and probably don’t warrant much more than a mention in the agency’s final review of the pipeline project.

The form letters were generated by three national conservation groups, with the Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity accounting for nearly 38,000 of them.

The letters, most submitted electronically, came in from across the country and around the world. Several people sent the same letter multiple times.

"They pretty much hit the submit button five or 10 or 15 times," Woods said. "It struck me like … the cyber version of a petition."

For the past two months, the BLM has been gathering public input on the final draft of its environmental review of the pipeline.

The deadline for comments was Monday.

A final decision is expected by the end of the year on whether to grant the Southern Nevada Water Authority access across federal land for water pipes and power lines extending roughly 300 miles from Las Vegas to Spring Valley in White Pine County.

Woods said some letters from the public probably will be addressed in that final document, known as a record of decision.

She said the BLM received 34 "unique letters" from individuals with an interest in the project or who live in areas where it will be built. Most came from Nevada, but several were sent from concerned residents in Utah and California.

Woods said the bureau received only a handful of comments in favor of the pipeline project, including one from the Colorado River Commission of Nevada, the state agency in charge of managing Nevada’s water and hydropower resources from the river.

Woods said she expected a good deal of input because of how controversial the project is, but she was surprised by the sheer volume of form letters.

In the end, though, they didn’t really offer any new information or criticism, she said.

"There wasn’t anything in them that we hadn’t already addressed."

"I would take issue with that," said Rob Mrowka, Nevada ecologist for the Center for Biological Diversity.

"The form letter we wrote was substantive. It was issue-based, very issue-based."

If BLM officials choose to ignore it, they will be "ignoring a huge voice from the American public who have concerns about this project," Mrowka said.

After roughly seven years of review, the BLM in early August signed off on the water authority’s pipeline plan but excluded Snake Valley on the Utah border, where the project has met stiff resistance.

Water authority officials insist they have not yet committed to building the pipeline, which is being touted as a backup supply for a community that gets 90 percent of its water from an overtaxed Colorado River.

Critics argue that large-scale pumping will devastate the environment and the livelihoods of rural residents while producing too little water to do Southern Nevada much good.

Then there is the project’s price tag, which could exceed $3 billion for construction and another $12 billion for financing and inflationary costs.

In May, Nevada’s top water regulator granted the authority permission to pump up to 84,000 acre-feet of groundwater a year – enough for more than 300,000 Las Vegas Valley homes – from four other watersheds in Lincoln and White Pine counties.

Before that decision, the Center for Biological Diversity sent a similar "action alert" that generated more than 20,000 protest letters.

The response this time was nearly double, but it still might not make a difference, Mrowka said.

"We can hope that this … is going to influence the decision makers and give them pause," he said, but the "pragmatic realist" in him doesn’t really expect much to change.

His prediction: In a few months, federal regulators will issue a record of decision that grants the water authority the rights of way it needs to build its pipeline across federal land.

Then the Center for Biological Diversity and others will sue.

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