Think of the geology beneath the Great Basin as a giant sponge. Mother Nature drizzles water into it in the form of rain and snow. The water creeps below ground from valley to valley in a huge regional aquifer that extends from Salt Lake City to Death Valley. This ground water sometimes comes to the surface in springs that quench desert ecosystems that are many millennia old.
Las Vegas, one of the fastest growing cities in the United States, wants to withdraw a large portion of this ground water to slake its burgeoning thirst and fill its swimming pools. It wants to drill wells in east central Nevada and pipe the water 275 miles south to the gambling palaces and golf courses of Vegas.
But this scheme is an ecological crap shoot, something Nevada would know about.
Allocation of Nevada’s water is certainly Nevada’s business, not Utah’s, except for the fact that one of the areas whose ground water would be drained is Snake Valley, which straddles the Utah/Nevada state line and lies 70 percent in Utah. The Utah ranchers there are rightly afraid that the ground water tables will drop and their springs will dry up. Ultimately, this water mining could affect the springs elsewhere in Utah’s portion of the Great Basin as well.
Now comes word from a Nevada biologist that this whole pipe dream would be a nightmare. James E. Deacon and his colleagues argue in the journal BioScience that “large-scale ground water withdrawal in Nevada, the most arid state in the United States, poses a major underappreciated threat to biodiversity.”
Basically, they say that the huge aquifer is in equilibrium now, and if Vegas withdraws huge quantities of water that can’t be recharged by Mother Nature, the consequences for endangered plants and animals would be catastrophic.