Episode: Desert Wars: Water and the West

Original Airdate: 
September 2006

Our future is measured by the drop.

It’s a story as old as the West itself; a story of water and power.  Who has it and who wants it.  Competing interests debate how growth, development, preservation, and conservation are at stake in the future of the West. 

Desert Wars: Water and the West, a one-hour KUED documentary film by John Howe, explores these pressing issues by looking at the conflicts surrounding the future of the Snake Valley groundwater aquifer in Utah’s west desert and efforts to tap it for Las Vegas, Nevada. The documentary is narrated by actor Joseph Campanella, and features an original score by Vincent Frates.

The weathered landscape of the West has long been surrounded by controversy.  Some see a vast wasteland with little political clout.

The story begins in the harsh landscape of Snake Valley, along the Utah-Nevada border, some 300 miles from Las Vegas.  Residents have worked hard to make this desert flourish.

Camouflaged under a sea of sagebrush is the lifeblood of the West: water.   A large carbonate groundwater aquifer created through millennia lies hidden, only sporadically bubbling to life in springs and oases of green.  For small towns like Callao and Partoun, Utah, and Baker, Nevada, ranching and farming are paramount to their way of life. 

 The growing metropolis of Las Vegas wants part of this water.  Proposed groundwater pipelines flowing to Las Vegas could possibly affect not just small towns and ranching communities but also Great Basin National Park, Fish Springs National Wildlife Refuge, and endangered species.
Beyond the neon glow of Las Vegas, housing subdivisions sprawl across the desert.  Is growth inevitable?  Can the landscape, as we know it, survive? 

Las Vegas is one of the fastest-growing cities in the country.  Nevada is considered to be the driest state in the nation.  Utah is second.  The thirst for water plagues many cities of the West as population booms.  Where will resources come from to support this growth?  

John Howe’s latest film is an extraordinary look at the complex battle for the resource that will control the future of the West.

Desert Wars: Water and the West is made possible by a major grant from the Willard L. Eccles Charitable Foundation.