Why a proposed water pipeline through the Utah desert is a bad idea
Air pollution and environmental degradation are sure to follow Nevada's newest development project.
Tuesday, August 16, 2011 - 23:01
DESERT IN DANGER: If Nevada's proposed pipeline is approved there will be severe consequences for the environment and desert communities of Western Utah. (Photo: Ken Lund/Flickr)
During certain times of the year, Salt Lake City, Utah, suffers some of the worst air quality in the United States. Signs along the highway warn commuters of poor air quality days and urge people to "DRIVE LESS" and "TRAVEL WISELY." Exercising outside on a "red day," the code name for days which exhibit maximum levels of pollutants, has been equated to smoking an entire pack of cigarettes. During a day like this, it's not uncommon to see a few brave cyclists and runners pass by in breathing masks that look like something out of World War II. Although they live in a state that is a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts, Utah residents have learned to accept that air pollution is a chronic problem.
Unfortunately, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is considering approving a project that will make air quality along the Wasatch Front even worse. At the same time, the project would jeopardize the viability of an area that includes 35 hydrographic basins, five national wildlife refugees, four state wildlife preserves, and two national parks. So why would the BLM allow a project that would destroy so much of Utah's pristine desert environment and carry residual effects to its largest city? The problem is that the eternally sinful city, Las Vegas, Nev., needs more water — and apparently Utah is the one who should give it to them.
The Southern Nevada Water Authority is seeking permission to build several pipelines that will cross into Utah in order to carry water from the eastern Nevada basins to Las Vegas. The proposed project will pump 57 billion gallons of water per year out of aquifers that span across the Nevada/Utah boarder and currently provide water to communities and wildlife in Utah’s west desert. The project's environmental impact statement does not address how long it would take these aquifers to recharge after so much water is removed. It does, however, estimate that the project would add 24,122 tons of windblown dust into the air a year and cause groundwater drawdowns of up to 200 feet. Groundwater drawdown is notorious for stirring up dust and pollutants.
It doesn't take a scientist to figure out that removing water from one desert community to relieve the needs of another desert community is not a sustainable fix. It doesn't take a scientist to understand that a state whose poor air quality has been repeatedly recognized by the federal government cannot afford any more pollution. There is just too much at stake to let this project continue. The area of land that would be directly affected is the size of Vermont and includes three of Utah's western counties.
We humans can be very silly and often impractical creatures. We build sprawling cities in regions where water is scarce. We import foods that cannot be grown in our areas from halfway across the world. We fix one city's problem by creating a problem in another. It's clear that the principle of "manifest destiny" we used to justify westward expansion in America will never die. According to this principle, we can develop freely in order to meet the needs of today. Rupert Steele is a member of the Goshute Tribe, whose reservation lies on both sides of the Utah-Nevada boarder. I think he summed up the situation perfectly in an article run by the Salt Lake Tribune: "Taking water resources away from its source should not be allowed. This will leave a sad legacy of environmental destruction."
Fortunately the Bureau of Land Management has not yet approved the 306-mile pipeline project and there is still a chance that officials will find the associated risks to be too high. The BLM will take written comments on the draft of the environmental impact statement until Oct. 11. Take action and let the government know how you feel about this proposition. With enough convincing, maybe the powers in charge will consider the needs of tomorrow, rather than only the needs of today.
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