Watch Desert Wars September 25, 2006 at 8 pm on KUED Channel 7
Interviewer: Tell me about Utah's position on this issue? Can Nevada legally take the water from this area into Las Vegas?
Michael Styler: Utah's position on Southern Nevada Water proposal was originally a proposal that came from Utah. They wanted to take more of the Colorado River and we said, no, you can't have more of the Colorado River… you must develop the water within your own state. So can they legally take water from within their own state? Yes they can! Our position is, if they get close enough to the border that their pumping of water from the Snake Valley impairs Utah water rights, we can't allow that. One of the things that happened in the federal statute is we got an agreement put into the federal statute that said Utah and Nevada must come to an agreement before any trans-basin diversion of water takes place. We're working with Nevada to work on that agreement and we feel that that is our ace in the hole for protecting water rights for Utah ranchers. If there is a drawdown of water, Southern Nevada Water has always said that they will pay for mitigation. They've got money to spend on mitigation. We're happy to hear that but we're even more concerned that Utah water rights are not lost as they pull water out of this proposal.
Interviewer: How do you determine if there is surplus water to be had?
Michael Styler: That's an interesting question. Utah water right doesn't guarantee a flowing well. It guarantees that there is water there and you may have to go get it. It may be that we reach equilibrium with water five feet below the surface rather than flowing above the surface. What we're talking about here is a safe yield. We don't want more water to be taken out of that basin than can recharge. That's are aim—to reach that equilibrium of recharge.
Interviewer: And how do you know what that recharge is? One of their concerns is they feel there is not adequate science.
Michael Styler: We don't know until we do some testing. That is one of the reasons Utah is proposing a series of about thirteen wells to do some stress testing, some pumping to see what equilibrium might be. There has got to be a lot more studied before we know the answers.
Interviewer: Talk just a little bit about the process and how these decisions will be made ultimately.
Michael Styler: There are several things that are involved. First of all let me just share with you what the federal statue says because I think this is important, it says "Prior to any trans-basin diversion from groundwater basins located within both the State of Nevada and the State of Utah, the State of Nevada and the State of Utah shall reach an agreement regarding the division of water resources of those interstate groundwater flow systems from which water shall be diverted and used by the project. The agreement shall allow for the maximum sustainable beneficial use of the water resources and protect existing water rights." So we're just barely now starting to set up the framework for reaching that agreement. We have had some discussions—the State Engineer from Nevada and Utah have actually appointed a team from within their divisions to start working on this framework of this agreement. We have talked and the feeling right now is I will be the signatory from Utah and my counterpart from Nevada, Allan Biagi, will be the signatory on behalf of Nevada. In the meanwhile, there is a huge study being done to look at this groundwater system that there was six million dollars appropriated, and we don't want to get ahead of the science. We want to set up a framework so that we'll have things in place so we can talk about actual numbers when the science numbers come in.
Interviewer: What happens in the case that Utah determines that there is not sufficient water for what Southern Nevada Water Authority wants to do?
Michael Styler: I think the first person who would make that decision would be
Interviewer: As these cities of the West boom, overpopulation and other things, and you can see it all over the West—Las Vegas, Phoenix, Tucson, Salt Lake City—where will these resources come from in terms of water?
Michael Styler: First of all conservation is very important to us. That is one of things we are doing here in Utah through our "Slow the Flow" campaign that everyone has heard of. It's actually working and we've had a goal of 25% conservation. We're about ¾ of the way there—we're about 17% of the way to reaching our goal towards the 25% so conservation in the West has got to be very important and Las Vegas is probably one of the most vivid places where conservation is going into effect. Conservation number one… there will be some change of use of water where there use to be crops like in Davis and Salt Lake County. There are now homes and that water that went to irrigate those crops goes towards maintaining those homes. It's interesting that the amount of water needed to irrigate crops per acre is just about exactly what it needs to take to sustain families and homes on that same acreage. So that will be the second place. The third place that water will come from is through developing and reaching out to develop sources like the Colorado River or agricultural water that are away from the cities as Las Vegas is now doing. I know close to home, the town of Tooele has in years past reached out and bought a sod-farm that is many miles away from town in the event that some day they need that water. If they do they'll dry up the sod farm and pump the water into Tooele. So that's happening all over the West. Salt Lake City has a tremendous amount of water compared with Las Vegas. We have water that we're not yet using in Salt Lake City and if we need more we still have Colorado River water, we have Bear River water and we have underground water that is not being used. Salt Lake is so blessed compared to Las Vegas. They are not even comparable because Salt Lake City has so much more water. St. George is comparable to Las Vegas because they have reached out and they have developed most of the agriculture water in their area and they're now working on conservation and with their current growth rates, in about fifteen years they'll be out of water so they need the Lake Powell pipe-line. Fortunately Utah has an undeveloped pool of water in Lake Powell that can be used and so it was actually Larry Anderson our just retired Division of Water Resources Director who came up with that idea some years ago and they first thought, why would we ever want to do that? And as they gave it more thought it started to make sense just as the idea of Southern Nevada is starting to make sense to them to go up through the center of the state and look for water there.
Interviewer: What do you think is going to happen over the next ten or twenty years?
Michael Styler: You've looked at the future and it's there. In Las Vegas's case, water is more important that money and it will be the case, I believe, in Washington County as well. Fortunately we have a pool of water for Washington County, but Las Vegas will probably be looking at some desalinization. They're already building some dams in Southern California to capture what is now almost wastewater that they can use and they're spending millions of dollars to catch a small amount of water that is turned down the Colorado River. That's just on the hope that they can use that water and transfer it out of the Colorado River, which they have reached an agreement for California to do. Yes, desalinization and other more expensive means of developing water will be used.
Interviewer: What do you think can be done to alleviate the rancher's fears especially with the trust issue with the Southern Nevada Water Authority? I guess from the Utah angle.
Michael Styler: I think what we could tell them… Governor Huntsman went out and visited with them, which is really unprecedented. He went out and listened and had a town meeting and heard their concerns and he told them that we will not allow Utah water rights to be taken in this process. In every conversation we've had since, he tells me to look out for those people's water rights. I guess the only comfort that we could give the folks out there who are my friends and neighbors, is that we will not give up. We will be concerned for their water rights and we will protect them every way we can.