U.S. Department of the InteriorDOI News Header
Office of the Secretary
September 11, 2006
Diana Weigmann, 702-515-5040
or Frank Quimby, 202-208-7291

Interior Reaches Agreement with Southern Nevada Water Authority on Proposed Groundwater Development

The U.S. Department of the Interior has reached an Agreement with the Southern Nevada Water Authority that will protect federal water rights and natural resources from the potential adverse effects of proposed groundwater development in the Spring Valley Basin.

"The goal of this Agreement is to ensure that we can maintain the federally-managed natural resources that depend on groundwater from the Spring Valley Administrative Groundwater Basin," said Tom Weimer, Interior's Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management, and Budget.

"The Agreement ensures that any groundwater development by the Southern Nevada Water Authority in the Basin will be done in conjunction with a cooperative program of monitoring and mitigation that can detect potential problems early and take preventive actions to protect water and water-dependent natural resources under Interior's stewardship," Weimer said.

The Agreement is the result of six months of negotiations between Interior bureaus (the Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Indian Affairs) and the Southern Nevada Water Authority, which had applied for permits from the State of Nevada to tap public groundwater from the Spring Valley Basin to augment Las Vegas' water supply. The applications request 91,000 acre-feet of water annually from the Basin.

Because of concerns that the withdrawal of this groundwater could impact federally managed water-related resources, such as wetlands, springs, streams, and riparian communities, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management filed protests to these applications.

By filing the Agreement with the Nevada State Engineer at the water rights hearings beginning today, Interior withdraws its protests to the Southern Nevada Water Authority's applications in the Spring Valley Basin and requests that the State Engineer include the Agreement as part of permit terms and conditions in the event that he grants any of the Authority's applications in total or in part.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, and Bureau of Indian Affairs offered the following comments on the Agreement:

Steve Thompson, Manager for the USFWS California and Nevada Operations Office, said "The Fish and Wildlife Service has entered into this Agreement to collect essential information to help ensure protection of our trust resources as development of groundwater resources moves forward. We look forward to participating in this consensus-based process to assist us in guiding future decisions to protect important natural resources."

The primary trust resources of the USFWS within the Spring Valley area include wetlands, wetland-dependent species, migratory birds, and a refuge population of endangered Pahrump poolfish. The development of monitoring and mitigation programs, as part of this Agreement, will also ensure the protection of trust resources such as Ruby Lake and Fish Springs National Wildlife Refuges.

Ron Wenker, Nevada State Director of the Bureau of Land Management, stated, "The monitoring plan will collect and analyze data to assess any impacts of proposed groundwater pumping in the Spring Valley Basin and initiate necessary mitigation measures to avoid potential injury to water-dependent ecosystems."

These ecosystems provide habitat for diverse wildlife, such as sage grouse and migratory birds, antelope and mule deer, bats, amphibians, and other small mammals. The plan also will help protect existing water rights on public lands that provide water for a variety of uses in addition to wildlife and habitat needs, such as livestock grazing and recreation.

Conserving the natural resources and scenic values of Great Basin National Park is a focus of the Agreement's initiatives. Jon Jarvis, Regional Director for the National Park Service, said "The joint commitment to protect resources at Great Basin National Park is critically important to the citizens of Nevada as well as the Nation. The cooperative decision making process is designed to provide early warning of potential effects on Park resources so that impacts will be avoided before they result in resource damage. We are committed to provide an open line of communication between the settling parties and interested citizens."

Pat Ragsdale, Director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, explained that the bureau's role in the process has been to protect Indian water and water-dependent resources on the Goshute Indian Reservation and the Ely Indian Colony, which are located outside of the Spring Valley sub-basin. "The terms of the Agreement and associated monitoring network will ensure that any potential impacts from groundwater pumping will be detected and addressed well before the impacts reach either reservation," Ragsdale said.

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