Watch Desert Wars September 25, 2006 at 8 pm on KUED Channel 7
Interviewer: Lets start out, Governor Huntsman by just telling us what your position is on this ground water issue, especially regarding the Snake Valley ranchers and the Las Vegas interests.
Governor Huntsman: I think it really comes down to an issue of sovereignty and the sovereignty then defines what our natural resources are and what we do with our resources including water which is perhaps the most precious natural resource of all. You can't exist without water--it has made the West, so to speak. If you've got water, you flourish. If you don't have water there is no way you can survive and be prosperous. Here in the western part of the state, in Snake Valley, you have a very interesting dynamic. You have an old traditional lifestyle, ranching, in a hard, scrabble part of the American West that is juxtaposed with Clark County, the fastest growing county in the United States today. Of course they have conflicting interests. I stand up strongly for the interests of our ranchers—those who want to protect their way of life and have done so for a hundred years in the western part of our state. The resources are ours and I do believe the EIS that is being done, the Environmental Impact Study, by the Department of the Interior and others I think will result in our all discovering that this big straw concept would in fact draw resources right out of the backyards of people who are trying to make a life for themselves in the western part of Utah.
Interviewer: What is your position in terms of assuaging their fears? It seems a lot of what their concerns are, are based on fears especially regarding the Southern Nevada Water Authority.
Governor Huntsman: They have to know that their state, right up to the very top and I've had them in my office a couple of times as I've gone out to see them on site, will stand with them and fight for their interests. In fact we as a state have veto authority over any decision that is made. This has to be sort of mutually acceded to between Utah and Nevada in order for this to work and I'm going to make sure that the interests of our people in the Snake Valley region are protected and that their life-styles are protected before we make any decision that would funnel water into Clark County.
Interviewer: What happens if Utah determines if there is really not surplus to be had, especially for Nevada?
Governor Huntsman: Well I think if we determine that there is not surplus water to be had then I think that Nevada has to look at some other alternative and they have to go farther in their own states or they have to look at desalinization technology. Listen if we're going to grow as rapidly as we're growing here in the West—you've got Clark County, you've got Maricopa County in Arizona, you've got the Greater Wasatch Front all growing at a very rapid clip and among the fastest in the United States—then we certainly ought to be focused on technologies that will allow us to accommodate that growth and not rip off natural resources that aren't ours. I say the same thing about nuclear waste. You know, why on earth would somebody want to bury nuclear waste in our state and disrupt pristine lands when we ought to let technology catch pace with our need to reprocess spent nuclear waste on site and not dumped in our back yard? I see water resources as no different. We need to work on technologies that will allow us to desalinize and maybe draw from some other resource where you find water aplenty, maybe with a higher salinity content, but nonetheless water that you can draw from and maybe transform it into something that is impotable. I think we're some years away from doing that and I suspect fifty years from now we're going to look back on this water war and say, that really was a thing of history because now we have the kind of technology that allows us to accommodate growth in the West.
Interviewer: What kind of technology would protect the ranchers from this kind of activity?
Governor Huntsman: In the form of, more or less, understanding between Utah and the Water Authority in Nevada where we basically have to do this kind of thing jointly and the protection would be Utah simply saying no! To me that is the ultimate protection that our State has.
Interviewer: The ranchers fear this may turn into another Owens Valley. Do you think it's that dire and what can be done to protect their way of life?
Governor Huntsman: Well I think we protect their way of life by keeping their water shed or water resources in tact. They understand it far better than the rest of us. We come in pretending that we're experts with kind of an episodic visit to their valley. They've been working it for generations and they know where the resources are and they know what is theirs and they know how to use it. They know the difficulty in tapping it—good years versus bad years, and I tend to defer to the good judgment of the people of the Snake Valley region to guide my thinking anyway.
Interviewer: Talk about how these cities are growing so rapidly and taking resources from outside their area. What do you think is going to happen with these cities as they boom?
Governor Huntsman: I think John Weseley Powell basically called it right after the Civil War when he came traipsing through here in 1869/1870 where he knew better than anyone else that the Colorado River would not be able to feed the growth that would likely occur here in the West and in fact that was fairly prophetic. We are now the fastest growing region in the United States when you look at the Intermountain West and our growth does need to be supported by technologies and resources that allow us to keep pace with growth. We're not going to be able to turn this off and it will be a constant companion over the next twenty and forty years simply because we have a quality of life here in the West that is the envy of most people in the United States and indeed other place in the world. So I suspect we're going to see technologies develop that will accommodate this growth. It has to be coupled with a sense of conservation. There has to be a conservation ethic that is instilled in our younger generation so that the idea of consuming three to four hundred gallons per day per person is throttled back to a more "user friendly" level. The thought of having green grass landscapes in front of all homes and buildings is maybe re-thought fundamentally. The idea that you can have a massive water fountain in front of every grand hotel in Las Vegas probably has to be re-thought just a little bit with a sense that going forward without technologies for desalinization or some other way, we've got to maintain and even strength in a conservation ethic.
Interviewer: Is there a correlation between the pipeline project on Lake Powell and the one we have in Las Vegas?
Governor Huntsman: I don't think so unless politicians on a regional basis want to play power politics. As if to say, if you don't live here then we're not going to give there. I see them very much as stand-alone projects. We have our own growth needs in Washington County, which today has 110 to 115,000 going on 300,000—it's the second fastest growing county in the country and for all the reasons that you would imagine in Clark County and Maricopa County—an enviable quality of life. People want to live there because it's affordable and it's beautiful. The air is breathable and the water is drinkable and we do have some very serious growth issues and that's land-use planning, it's how our growth occurs in terms of maintaining livable communities and quality of life and it is of course water. We live in a very thirsty and dry part of the country where water traditionally has been very cheap, second only I think to Nevada historically. So we're going to have to think through how we tackle the Lake Powell pipeline project and I'm here to tell you that it likely will not be on the twenty-year building block schedule but more likely on the ten-year schedule. That's how quickly we're growing and we're going to need to draw from the resources that it would provide.
Interviewer: One of the issues is that millions of people would benefit from this water in Las Vegas in terms of the economy and jobs and that kind of thing, as opposed to a very few in Snake Valley where water is needed for agriculture. What do you think about that in terms of should a very few sacrifice to the many can benefit?
Governor Huntsman: I think that's a disingenuous argument. We have a way of life that ought to be protected. People have invested their livelihoods in their way of life for generations and I wouldn't want to be the arrogant one who comes along saying that their lifestyle is now anachronistic and we've got to feed the burgeoning casino and hotel business just south of them… for heaven's sake if that's where our country is going in terms of public policy, then you can expect and outbreak of civil war at some point.