Watch Desert Wars September 25, 2006 at 8 pm on KUED Channel 7
Interviewer: Tell me what we're actually looking at when we see this spring.
Jay Banta: This is South Spring and it's one of two larger springs on the refuge. It's a prehistoric spring fed out of the carbon aquifer and flows generally in the neighborhood of about seven to nine cubic feet per second. It's fossil water… that's what the hydrologists tell me it is.
Interviewer: Tell me the significance of the spring and talk about it in terms of the carbonic aquifer.
Jay Banta: Well the South Spring is one of the major springs that provide flow that we use to feed our wetlands. It is fed out of the carbon aquifer, which is the prehistoric deeper aquifer, which underlies parts of Western Utah and eastern Nevada.
Interviewer: Tell me a little bit about how old this water is. How far back does this water date?
Jay Banta: Well we have some limited data that has been done in past history that indicates that some of the samples have dated as old as 14,000 years ago in that 14,000 years ago it fell as precipitation. It has taken it that long to travel as ground water to the refuge.
Interviewer: What do we know about carbonic aquifers in terms of what recharge is?
Jay Banta: I think there is a lot unknown about that. Most of it is thought to be probably from snowmelt out of many of the mountain ranges, but the rate at which it travels and the rate at which we see flows arrive is largely a matter of speculation. The carbonic aquifer, which is the aquifer that feeds all of our springs here of course is the much deeper prehistoric aquifer fed primarily I'm told out of snowmelt from most of the higher mountain ranges that seeps in over time and it's apparently a very long process.
Interviewer: Tell me what is unique about Fish Springs?
Jay Banta: We believe it's possibly the largest spring-fed marsh of it's type surely in the Western United States and maybe in the United States as a whole and it's certainly a critical piece of habitat in the middle of a really arid zone. Fish Springs is one of the largest sully spring-fed marshes in the Western United States, and perhaps in the entire lower forty-eight. It's certainly a critical piece of habitat in the middle of a very arid region that doesn't have a whole lot in the way of wetlands.
Interviewer: Where does the water come from at Fish Springs?
Jay Banta: The water that feeds the marshes of Fish Springs comes from a carbon aquifer--the very deep prehistoric aquifer and it allows us to maintain one of the largest wetland complexes in the Western United States.
Interviewer: Tell me what you think of this ground water pumping plan that SNWA is planning? What are your greatest fears here for Fish Springs?
Jay Banta: Well of course at Fish Springs our mission is to provide habitat for a wide variety of migratory birds, particularly wetland migratory birds. Water is what allows us to maintain the wetlands and we're concerned that anything that might diminish the flows that come out of the refuge springs will diminish our ability to maintain and create high-quality habitat for those birds. I'm certainly no hydrological expert, but I do think that there is potential that it could impact the refuge. It's probably a matter of timeframe, but it takes a lot of expertise. It's a very complicated issue I think.
Interviewer: How much surplus water do you think is available for groundwater pumping?
Jay Banta: I can't address that issue in the carbon aquifer because I'm not sure that anybody knows how much water is in there. It does appear, at least based on what I hear from my neighbors in the Snake Valley, that perhaps the basin aquifer is perhaps over-allocated now and there isn't any additional water. Those folks have been farming there for a lot of years and they understand that shallow water system pretty well.
Interviewer: What are your greatest fears if there were to be too much groundwater pumping in this area?
Jay Banta: Well I think it diminishes the flows for the refuge. Certainly if there is a remedial action, it could take a long time for that remedial action to actually put us back to where the flows were in the beginning so I think that the science is so poorly understood that it's going to be difficult for anyone to predict many of the potential impacts.
Interviewer: Can you discuss any process that would protect Fish Springs?
Jay Banta: I would like to ensure hopefully that the science that is used by the BLM in making their decision is the best available science and that we have the opportunity for scientists from the USGS and the agencies that are involved in this to provide good science—science that will make a responsible decision and support whatever decision is made.
Interviewer: Some say there are already regulations that would protect Fish Springs. What do you think?
Jay Banta: I think that the patterns and actions of the aquifers—both the carbon and the shallow-basin fill aquifer—are so poorly understood that I think it's hard for anyone to predicts what the impacts are going to be and they can guarantee that areas such as Fish Springs or other critical wetlands in the West desert are protected.
Jay Banta: Well, personally I think that it's an issue that we're going to see more and more of. I think that large urban areas in the arid West are going to continue to look for water wherever they can get it so perhaps this is just the first of many such efforts we're going to see for many cities in the West as domestic water becomes a critical issue.
Interviewer: Why should people in Snake Valley and this area trust the Southern Nevada Water Authority to protect areas like Fish Springs?
Jay Banta: Well I can hope that is the case. I think the protection for places like Fish Springs, at least in this process, comes through the environmental impact statement process and hopefully all of the information that the BLM decision-makers have is considered and they have good science and if they do then the chips will fall where they fall and hopefully a responsible decision will be made based on science.
I think that this threat may or may not go away. I think it will raise it's head again, but we know that the marsh is about 12,000 years old and we hope that it's here to provide habitat for at least that much longer.