Government Scientists Confirm Las Vegas Water Withdrawal Project Will Be Epic Disaster
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) today released its long-anticipated final environmental impact statement for the pipeline right-of-way for the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s “groundwater development project.” The project plans to siphon more than 37.1 billion gallons of groundwater per year from at least four valleys in central Nevada and pumping it 300 miles to the Las Vegas Valley.
“The federal government’s own scientists are confirming this Las Vegas water project would be an epic environmental disaster,” said Rob Mrowka, a Nevada-based ecologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s really no exaggeration to say that the natural, cultural and social heritage of central Nevada is at grave risk from this project.”
The impact statement discloses that more than 137,000 acres of wildlife habitat will be permanently destroyed or changed because of the lowering of groundwater tables—by up to 200 feet in many areas. This will drive declines in species like mule deer, Rocky Mountain elk, sage grouse and Bonneville cutthroat trout. Most at risk will be species associated with the springs and wetlands that will dry up as the water beneath them is sucked away.
“Some of Nevada’s rarest and most unique species rely on wetlands and springs,” said Mrowka. “They’ve evolved over tens of thousands of years in response to isolation and fragmentation of habitat that occurred after ice ages. The Las Vegas water grab could undo all that and put them on a very real path toward extinction.”
Scientific research reveals that many of these species are often found in only one or two springs. As the springs are dewatered and flows are altered and eventually stopped, at least 25 species of Great Basin springsnails will be pushed to, or over, the edge of extinction. Also affected will be 14 species of desert fish such as the Moapa dace and White River springfish; frogs and toads will fare little better, with four species severely threatened by the dewatering.
Other impacts from the project disclosed in the BLM’s impact statement today include ground-level subsidence in excess of five feet on more than 240 square miles and tens of thousands of tons of new dust generated from dewatered and denuded lands.
The impact statement envisions a multi-layered scheme of monitoring to detect impacts, followed by mitigation measures to reduce the impacts. This approach is flawed in several ways. First, it places the Water Authority in the driver’s seat to do the monitoring and then faithfully report and address it—a scenario that defies reason and credibility. Second, it assumes that any observed impacts can be successfully addressed, while sound science suggests that the lag time between pumping and observation of the impact makes this virtually impossible.
Finally, it assumes that the Water Authority will have adequate funds available to conduct the monitoring and successfully mitigate damage. Experiences from a similar situation in the Owens Valley of California reveal that tens of millions of dollars are spent annually to mitigate just one problem: dust. “Given the $15.5 billion price tag of just constructing and financing the pipe, promises to mitigate the impacts are frankly laughable,” Mrowka said.
The public and elected officials now have at least 30 days to provide further comment and input to the BLM before a final decision is issued.
“This is a critical time for the Southern Nevada Water Authority, its board and all elected officials to take action to put the brakes on this disastrous and unneeded project,” said Mrowka. “There’s still time for the authority to table the project and begin the much-needed dialogue with the community on better options for meeting the Las Vegas Valley’s future water needs—high among them sensible growth management.”
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By Alyssa Murdoch, Chrystal Mantyka-Pringle and Sapna Sharma
Summer has finally arrived in the northern reaches of Canada and Alaska, liberating hundreds of thousands of northern stream fish from their wintering habitats.
A Good News Story?<p>On the surface, the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/fwb.13569" target="_blank">results from our study</a> appear to provide a "good news" story. Warming temperatures were linked to higher numbers of fish, more species overall and, therefore, potentially more fishing opportunities for northerners.</p><p>Initially, we were surprised to learn that warming was increasing the distribution of cold-adapted fish. We reasoned that modest amounts of warming could lead to benefits such as increased food and winter habitat availability without reaching stressful levels for many species.</p>
Photo of Arctic grayling (left) and Dolly Varden trout (right). Alyssa Murdoch / Lilian Tran / Nunavik Research Centre and Tracey Loewen / Fisheries and Oceans Canada<p>Yet, not all fish species fared equally well. Ecologically unique northern species — those that have evolved in colder, more nutrient-poor environments, such as Arctic grayling and Dolly Varden trout — were showing declines with warming.</p>
Fish Strandings and Buried Eggs<p>Recent news headlines run the gamut for Pacific salmon — from their increased escapades <a href="https://nunatsiaq.com/stories/article/more-pacific-salmon-showing-up-in-western-arctic-waters/" target="_blank">into the Arctic</a> to <a href="https://www.juneauempire.com/news/warm-waters-across-alaska-cause-salmon-die-offs/" target="_blank">massive pre-spawning die-offs</a> in central Alaska. Similarly, results from our study revealed different outcomes for fish depending on local climatic conditions, including Pacific salmon.</p><p>We found that warmer spring and fall temperatures may be helping juvenile salmon by providing a longer and more plentiful growing season, and by supporting early egg development in northern regions that were previously too cold for survival.</p><p>In contrast, salmon declined in regions that were experiencing wetter fall conditions, pointing to an increased risk of flooding and sedimentation that could bury or dislodge incubating eggs.</p>
Headwaters of the Wind River within the largely intact Peel River watershed in northern Canada. Don Reid / Wildlife Conservation Society Canada / Author provided<p>Interestingly, we found that certain climatic combinations, such as warmer summer water temperatures with decreased summer rainfall, were important in determining where Pacific salmon could survive. Summer warming in drier watersheds led to declines, suggesting that lowered streamflows may have increased the risk of fish becoming stranded in subpar habitats that were too warm and crowded.</p>
The Fate of Northern Fisheries<p>The promise of a warmer and more accessible Arctic has attracted mounting interest in new economic opportunities, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpol.2019.103637" target="_blank">including fisheries</a>. As warming rates at higher latitudes are already <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank">two to three times global levels</a>, it seems probable that northern biodiversity will experience dramatic shifts in the coming decades.</p><p>Despite the many unknowns surrounding the future of Pacific salmon, many fisheries are currently <a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/03632415.2017.1374251" target="_blank">thriving following warmer and more productive northern oceans</a>, and some <a href="https://doi.org/10.14430/arctic68876" target="_blank">Arctic Indigenous communities are developing new salmon fisheries</a>.</p><p>As warming continues, the commercial salmon fishing industry is poised to expand northwards, but its success will largely depend on extenuating factors such as <a href="https://www.eenews.net/stories/1060023067" target="_blank">changes to marine habitat and food sources</a> and <a href="https://www.yukon-news.com/news/promising-chinook-salmon-run-failed-to-materialize-in-the-yukon-river-panel-hears/" target="_blank">how many fish are caught during the freshwater stages of their journey</a>.</p><p>Even with the potential for increased northern biodiversity, it is important to recognize that some northern communities may be unable to adapt or may <a href="https://thenarwhal.ca/searching-for-the-yukon-rivers-missing-chinook/" target="_blank">lose individual species that are associated with important cultural values</a>.</p>
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If you get a call from a number you don't recognize, don't hit decline — it might be a contact tracer calling to let you know that someone you've been near has tested positive for the coronavirus.
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Why You Should Participate (and What Happens If You Don’t)<p>A <a href="https://www.thelancet.com/journals/laninf/article/PIIS1473-3099(20)30457-6/fulltext" target="_blank">Lancet study</a> from June 16, which looked at data from more than 40,000 people, found that COVID-19 transmission could be reduced by 64 percent through isolating those who have the coronavirus, quarantining their household, and contacting the people they may have exposed.</p><p>The combination strategy was significantly more effective than mass random testing or just isolating the sick person and members of their household.</p><p>However, contact tracing is only as effective as people's willingness to participate, and a small number of people who've contracted the coronavirus or were potentially exposed are reluctant to talk.</p><p>"Contact tracers have all been hung up on, cussed at, yelled at," said Gullet.</p><p>The hesitation to talk to contact tracers often stems from concerns over privacy — a serious issue in healthcare.</p>
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