Up until now SNWA has been like a superhero in Las Vegas. Your organization has been able to provide water for a million people, living out in the desert. You have been able to recycle almost 100% of the water that's returned through the sewers – outstanding... But, your customers are complacent. They think they can waste as much water as they want, and that you'll just... provide. We all know that almost all of the evaporative losses in Las Vegas are for luxuries. Nobody farms down there. Even so, Las Vegas has ordered you to get water from the rest of Nevada. Your new role; arch villain. Which is what brings you here.
Let's not kid ourselves. We all know that taking water from the desert is tantamount to a death sentence. Without water, our future is limited to the few acre feet we get to keep. Without water, our environments in our valleys will collapse. One of the rare ecosystems set to die in White Pine County will be the Rocky Mountain Juniper forest in Spring Valley – the winter home of my (Western Shoshone) ancestors. Even the Great Basin National Park will be damaged. Within a few decades, all of the valleys from Southern Nevada to Ely will be nothing but sand. The only signs of life will be the bones of the antelope that now live here.
I've been to these meetings:
I've heard you tell us that you'll be pulling the water from deep wells, but most of your applications with the State are for less than 200 feet.
I've heard you tell us that these deep wells will be lined, to insure that the water doesn't leak from upper to lower aquifers. But, the water could easily leak on the outside of the liners.
I've heard you tell us that you are very concerned about the wildlife at risk. Yet you won't even address how much wildlife would have to die before you'd be willing to stop pumping. All you say is that you will obey the law. Well, I've learned that Nevada law pretty much allows you to kill it all.
I've heard you tell us that you will be monitoring water tables. But so what, when they will be dropping everywhere, and there's no way to stop them.
I've heard you tell us that we will be included in an oversight committee – but that the committee will not have any real authority to actually stop pumping.
If you don't have a better deal for us than that, we don't have any choice but to fight you.
I announced, at the Ely City Council meeting, that Lawrence Livermore Labs had developed a new desalination membrane that would reduce the cost of desalination by 75%. I hope you've looked into it. There is a massive opportunity here for you. Imagine, Southern California, that's right Southern California Desalinated Water Authority. You could start off small, but scalable – with offshore barges, powered by wave energy (like the ones off the coast of Portugal). Your first plants can be designed with conventional desalination technology. Initial costs might seem higher than the 10 year old figures for the pipeline network, pumps, and power plants. But that ignores your long term potential. When the new membrane technology is scaled up to the volume of your small plants, you can be the first on the block to be ready to use them. In other words, while everyone else is either waiting for membranes to be developed for larger (on shore) plants, or are still in the planning stage – all you'll essentially have to do is switch out your membranes. Almost instantly, your costs will drop precipitously. With the extra money, you can build more desalination plants, and dominate the desalination industry in California.
You can plan for this. LLL claim that it should take about 5 to 10 years to develop large scale membranes. By then you can have the facilities ready to mass produce these off shore barges.
Consider this; if you rely on wave power, your power source will be safe from earthquakes, and, most importantly, from the inevitable rising price of coal. When you switch out your membranes, not only will your water be the cheapest in California, you might even sell them the power you won't be needing at the lower pressures.
If SNWA were willing to desalinate more water for California than we would ask for from the Colorado River, of course they would be willing to deal with us. And with the new technology, we would be able to deliver it, at a reasonable price, by the time the desalination plants are built. And best of all, the water in Rural Nevada could remain here – to keep our wildlife alive, and to store for future generations, when they might really need it (for more than fountains and artificial lakes).
Southern Nevada Water Authority can be the superhero again. There will be a risk. The risk will only be financial. But the benefits might be outstanding. I'm sure that there are those in your organization who want a sure thing... But remember, the only sure thing we are looking at here in Rural Nevada, with the pipeline network, is that our future is in jeopardy. Our economy is in jeopardy. Our environment is in jeopardy. Our health is in jeopardy. And for what? So that Southern Nevada politicians don't have to raise local taxes on new residents... to pay for the real cost of moving to Las Vegas.
We need to get new Las Vegas residents to pay for desalination. If they don't pay the real cost for moving here, only the developers will profit from their presence.
The people who move to Las Vegas don't want to move to a wasteland. And that's Nevada's future with the pipeline. What do you think will happen to the land, if nothing can live on it? Rural Nevada will become the dump site for the Nation. And we're your next door neighbor.