October 23, 2009

Did Nevada strong-arm Utah over Snake Valley deal?

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Some long-hidden details of secret negotiations to divvy up water in the Snake Valley in Utah and send it to Las Vegas have emerged from documents requested by the Great Basin Water Network.  Patty Henetz of the Salt Lake Tribune details some of the documents that show Nevada negotiators threatened to fight to overturn a law that required both states to agree on a split, if Utah didn’t capitulate to a 50-50 demand.

Utah did, fearing that a change in the law could result in even less favorable terms. But the apparent flip-flop to support the 50-50 split has angered and worried environmentalists, ranchers and others in the area who say removing that much water from the aquifer will result in devastating, unintended environmental consequences, essentially creating a new dust bowl.

The documents help explain Utah’s apparent turnaround on the agreement, which it initially opposed. But there may be even more to the story.

The Salt Lake Tribune’s editorial board suggests this – “. . the elephant in the room, and the most likely explanation for Utah negotiators agreeing to the deal is the proposed Lake Powell Pipeline.”

Utah doesn’t want to rile the various parties, including Nevada, who have to agree on the Lake Powell deal, the board writes. “SNWA (Southern Nevada Water Authority) has threatened to make trouble for Utah if it doesn’t play ball on Snake Valley.”

It’s a good thing the Great Basin Water Network made its open records request. There has been little opportunity for the public to know what thinking went on behind the  Snake Valley negotiations.

Or how much bullying.

–Carol Smith

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