Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Rural Nevadans now know what it feels like to be Indian

Sun Tzu, author of The Art of War, wrote that the most successful acts of conquest require no military action whatsoever. I guess it's like getting something for nothing.

The Nevada State Engineer has just awarded Southern Nevada a huge chunk of Rural Nevada's water. It was all legal. It was all according to State Law – even though it defies rationality. Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) now has access to billions of dollars worth of other people's water. How could it possibly be moral for one community to take the water out from under the feet of another community, when there are alternatives? But it was all “legal,” therefore, they must be “right.”

Sure, they're adhering to the law. But, what law. They'll pay their taxes... but wait, SNWA's operations in White Pine County are tax exempt. They'll pay for what they take... but wait, Nevada law says SNWA can have the water for free. They'll adhere to the rulings of the Federal Agencies... but wait, the Department of Interior has ordered all the Federal Agencies to stand down at the Nevada water hearings. As I said... what law?

Why do I feel like we here in Rural Nevada have been conquered, and our homeland is about to be pillaged. Why do I feel like this is just more of the same for Native Americans. Just consider our history. Like the Spanish Empire before them, Americans first sent in the military to subdue us. Then they took the gold... and then the jewels and the precious metals. After that, they took the land and the natural resources. Now, there is another wave of exploitation brewing. They want to take our most valuable life-giving resource and send us their waste, their toxic waste, and their nuclear waste.

I can put up with the mining of our minerals, but when they plan to take our water and pollute everything here, that's way beyond immoral. Sooner or later, at this rate, life here in Rural Nevada will become unlivable for the Western Shoshone and the other Nevadans who have joined us here in this remote and beautiful land. This will effectively be an indirect form of ethnic cleansing. And why? Because they can. I guess because they aren't willing to take a chance on any other ideas. And probably because there is a huge profit potential in oppressing your neighbors.

The rest of the nation may not be willing to admit this to themselves yet, but they are all looking for a place to send their waste. And they're all secretly wishing that they could ship it off to the most remote place they can find. That's right. If someone can just get us all to leave Rural Nevada, it will be theirs for the taking, to exploit as the dumpsite for the nation. I don't believe there is a conspiracy – just a trend. A trend we had better do everything we can to stop. Or else Rural Nevada, within our lifetime; will only be the home to power plant employees, toxic waste train operators, and dumpsite workers.

I suppose we should be happy that SNWA only got 40,000 acre feet per year, when they were “asking” for 90,000. But, the hydrologists I've talked to didn't believe there was more than 70,000 acre feet, maximum, in the Spring Valley. Do the math... Why does it feel like SNWA “asked” for twice as much as they wanted? So that we could feel triumphant when the Nevada State Engineer would only give them half... oh, and another 20,000 acre feet if nobody can stop them later? That adds up to 60,000 acre feet, the realistic amount of water that feeds into the Spring Valley. That adds up to NO water for the plants and animals that live there now. This is what localized extinction looks like. Say goodbye to the forests and the shrubs in Spring Valley. Say goodbye to the antelope. And say goodbye to some of the life up on the west face of Great Basin National Park, because the water draw down will effect the water table there too.

They've lied to us. Every time we've met these representatives from Southern Nevada (who are here to help themselves to our natural resources), they've just told us what we've wanted to hear. They intend to protect the environment. With what? A magic wand. They will only be taking water from deep water aquifers. With wells that reach only a couple hundred feet down? They will help our economy, by building coal fired power plants... that nobody else on the planet wants. And most disgusting of all, that they are doing this in the name of sustainability. They don't even know the meaning of the term “sustainability,” or maybe their hoping you don't.

I love Las Vegas. I was born there and lived there for most of my life. I used to be a volunteer for the Nevada Commission on Tourism. I even used to volunteer my time to promote tourism in Las Vegas. But I can no longer do that. It just doesn't feel right. In fact, someday, someone may call a boycott of Las Vegas. There's no need for that now, because there is no pipeline, and no coal fired power plants... yet. However, eventually, we may realize that the only way to influence Las Vegas, is to cut the powerful peoples' incomes. A boycott of a tourism destination could be very effective. All we would have to do is tell the story of the plight of the Western Shoshone. And I wouldn't be surprised that the Indian Casinos around the nation would be quite helpful in promoting this boycott.

Nevada casino owners and developers were there to influence the Nevada State Engineer during the water hearings. Now they have to live with that fact. They also have to live with the fact that they were lied to (by omission). There is an alternative to essentially stealing the rest of the state's water – a practical, cost effective, and responsible alternative. SNWA just didn't want you to know about it. Why? Maybe they just didn't check into it as well as they should. Then again, maybe they were ordered not to. Let's face it, there's big money in charging to deliver Rural Nevada's water. This could be a sign that all is not what it seems at SNWA.

SNWA defines it's business structure as a “quasi-municipality.” In over a year, I have yet to get a clear explanation of what that means. I'm starting to believe that the term “quasi” means more than the term “municipality.” If SNWA were still a municipality, they would be required to respond more to our communities. SNWA certainly hasn't responded to the community of White Pine County. If I were placing a bet, I'd say this looks like a back-door privatization effort. With the water grab, they could make billions in the delivery of water they obtained for free. Of course, the pipeline will cost somewhere between 2 billion and 20 billion dollars – but so what. Rate payers will pay for that. SNWA has already penned a deal with Coyote Springs for the delivery of Coyote Springs own water (from Central/Eastern Nevada), at the cost of $5000 an acre foot. If SNWA were to get all the water they were “asking” for, and were able to get at least what Coyote Springs has already agreed to, that would amount to a Billion dollars a year. If somehow, SNWA were to become privatized, that would likely mean multi-million dollar paychecks for future SNWA executives... of course, at Las Vegans' expense.

SNWA could desalinate sea water and trade that for a bigger allotment of the Colorado River. Hold on. Before you assume that there isn't any water in the Colorado left, consider this; Las Vegas' allotment of the Colorado River is 300,000 acre feet per year. In a year, 15,000,000 acre feet flow by. Even if Lake Mead were totally empty, Las Vegas would have no trouble getting another 60,000 acre feet, if they had the legal right to. 60,000 acre feet is only 0.4 % of the total flow of the Colorado River – but it is likely to be the total flow into Spring Valley. Why take the risk?

That is the big question, isn't it? Why take the risk that there isn't nearly the water they hope for in Spring Valley (and all those other desert valleys), when we all know that there is plenty of water in the ocean? With desalination, SNWA doesn't even have to build a pipeline – to anywhere. The desalinated water can go directly to the coastline communities, and SNWA can just pump more water out of the Colorado River.

SNWA might just be looking at the situation this way: Why do the right thing, and make fresh water to trade with California, when they can sell the delivery of water from Rural Nevada, and make billions? Las Vegas stands to suffer almost as much as Rural Nevada. Don't expect the pipeline water to be cheap – especially if some private company were to control the flow. Expect tourists to notice the destruction of Rural Nevada – and inevitably, some of them will decide to go to Indian casinos instead. The polluted dust bowls of Rural Nevada will not be much of a tourism draw. Some of that dust is bound to blow towards Las Vegas. And just in case you didn't remember, some of that dust is radioactive fallout from the Nevada Test Site. One more thing, how many people are going to want to visit or move to a state that is fast becoming the nation's toxic dump site.

If SNWA were to build a fleet of barges with reverse osmosis desalination units on board, there wouldn't be a need to take water from the desert. The barges would be offshore, which would eliminate the argument against coastal desalination plants. The desalination units could be powered by wave power generators. Wave power generation is already being successfully implemented elsewhere on the planet. Most importantly, wave power will not be dependent upon the rising price of fossil fuels. And the price of reverse osmosis just keeps getting cheaper. This is a good idea. But, if you can get them to tell you, I'll bet SNWA hasn't spent anywhere near a reasonable amount of time or money on studying off shore desalination. As far as I know, they haven't spent anything.

I don't blame Southern Nevada for trying to lock up a long term supply of water... just in case. If SNWA's intentions are to have the water there in Rural Nevada, waiting underground, for a not so rainy day; I really don't have a problem with that. If people in Las Vegas were really going thirsty, and didn't have any alternative, I wouldn't be trying to stop the pipeline. But, that isn't the case. At least not yet. We do have better alternatives. This is where you come in, casino owners. You can pressure SNWA.

The casino owners and the developers have been duped into thinking that the pipeline is the only option. The truth is that, for now, it is the worst option.

If we can convince SNWA to invest in just one prototype desalination barge, we would be well on the way to proving the obvious; that in a world of less and less fresh water, it is now time to start making our fresh water – instead of fighting over the last few drops in the desert.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

What About Hydrogen Power?

OK Las Vegas; worst case scenario – or in your case, what will eventually happen. Sooner or later, for one reason or another, Las Vegas may have to face the fact that even with all the water they may take from Rural Nevada and Utah, there won't be enough. What will you do then? And, very importantly, what will you do if this happens sooner than we expect?

We all know that no matter how big Las Vegas gets; there will always be people who will want to keep it growing. Inevitably, they will be powerful people. They'll want answers... And we won't want to disappoint them, now will we. What are you going to do? What will you do when you start thinking about all that water being used for coal fired power plants – just being wasted? You're going to think of another way. Yeah, that's right. Sooner or later, Las Vegas is going to be considering shutting down the coal fired power plants for the water. All that would have to happen is that Las Vegas run out of water again in the next 50 years. Gee... how likely is that?

Consequently, whatever they're telling you the coal fired power plants will cost, they will likely cost more – simply because it isn't very likely that the utilities will be able to keep them running for their full operational life. There are multiple reasons the utility companies may not be able to profitably operate coal fired power plants for 50 years. Potential carbon taxes, the rising price of coal, regulatory changes, and the decreasing costs of alternative generation are all working against coal fired power. If the coal fired power plants are actually more expensive than we think, alternatives may be a better idea after all.

Let's consider hydrogen power:

As you probably already know, burning hydrogen doesn't produce even a fraction of the pollution of burning coal. So, it is a potential environmentally responsible alternative – if we can make it work at a reasonable price.

Hydrogen has the highest energy content per unit of weight of any known fuel; 52,000 Btu/lb. Anthracite coal only has 12,000 Btu/lb. This means that, by weight, only 23% of hydrogen is necessary as coal to get the same energy.

The coal fired power plant planned by Sierra Pacific, near Ely, Nevada, is expected to generate 1.5 GigaWatts of power by burning 10,000 tons of coal a day. If we assume similar efficiencies, hydrogen power would only require 2,300 tons of hydrogen a day.

If we were to talk volume, however, the situation is more like comparing apples and oranges. 10,000 tons of coal a day is more than a trainload of coal every day. But, hydrogen wouldn't be delivered by fleets of smoky old trains. To be cost effective, hydrogen would have to be delivered by pipeline.

In other applications, hydrogen has had to be pressurized to fit in the pipe. This would add significantly to the cost of the pipeline. However, my calculations (rough estimates, actually) show that pressurizing hydrogen to lower it's volume is not absolutely necessary (the calculations are at the end of the article):

By running at atmospheric pressure, we could eliminate the need for most all of the pumps – and the associated power use.

Hydrogen is about 1/14 as dense as air, which means hydrogen will flow uphill in a pipeline. Unlike water, pumping costs from the coast inland could be insignificant. Better yet, a pipeline full of hydrogen will flow over hills and back down the other sides, as long as the exit is at a higher elevation than the entry (utilizing a siphoning effect).

But there's more. When hydrogen “burns” to generate power, the byproducts are heat and water... that's right, fresh water. By piping in hydrogen from the sea, one can effectively get water to flow uphill! And the heat released can be used to cogenerate electricity.

Yes, there's even more. Hydrogen's atomic weight is 1. Oxygen's atomic weight is 16. In the chemical reaction that makes water from hydrogen and oxygen:

2H + O H2O

the atomic weights are:

1 + 1 + 16 = 18

Therefore: for every ton of hydrogen burnt, 9 tons of water is produced. So, burning 2,300 tons of hydrogen a day would result in 20,000 tons of water a day.

20,000 tons/day X 2000 pounds/ton

8.328 pounds/gallon

X 3.06888 X 10-6 acre feet/gallon

= 15 acre feet/day

15 acre feet/day X 365 days/year = 5,000 acre feet/year

5,000 acre feet/year X 5,000 dollars/acre feet

= $25,000,000 per year

The expected lifetime of a coal fired power plant is about 50 years. If hydrogen were burnt instead, the water sold could amount to:

50 years X $50,000,000 = $1,250,000,000

Which, of course, means that a utility company could spend $1.25 billion more on hydrogen power generation and a hydrogen pipeline to Las Vegas, and still come out even. Well, even... if you ignore all of the external costs and collateral damage that coal fired power plants would cause.

As mentioned earlier, what if this $5 billion coal fired power plant only gets to operate for 25 years? That means that the utility companies construction costs were twice what they expected. Which makes hydrogen look even better.

Unfortunately, our utility companies tell us that we don't have the option for hydrogen power now. It's just too expensive. (Too bad they don't say that about their executives' paychecks.) The truth, however, is that it just may be too expensive. The electrolysis of 800 million cubic feet of hydrogen a day, admittedly, will be very expensive (if we make hydrogen from fossil fuels, we'd still have a CO2 problem).

Making 2,300 tons of hydrogen a day may seem like a monumental task, but remember that digging up 400,000,000 tons of coal (literally a mountain of coal) is no easy task either. The manpower and heavy equipment costs will be huge. The loss of ranch land to mines will also be a substantial cost to our economy. Over the course of 50 years, there will be over 20,000 train loads of coal that will have to be delivered for round trips of over 1000 miles each. Just the fuel costs for the trains will make these Nevada coal fired power plant units among the least profitable in the West. There's the expense for water – enough water to support 100,000 people (or in this case, whole ecosystems). Then there's the cost of the power line from Central Nevada. Moreover, there is the expense of dealing with all the pollution from burning all that coal. The coal fired power plants will leave behind a toxic sludge pile that will cover 1500 acres – for future generations to deal with. And hundreds of tons of toxic chemicals will blanket the earth for hundreds to thousands of miles downwind. Just the health care costs will be astronomical. Of course, costs to society and the environment aren't calculated into Sierra Pacific's bottom line. But, these “external” costs had better be a concern for us.

Not to mention, there is one very important point that we have to remember. Eventually you're going to have to pay for both coal fired power and some form of alternative power generation. Hey wait a minute, both are always more expensive than either.

It may be a stretch to start construction of hydrogen power generators now. But, it may be a stretch that will be worth it in the long run.

We could construct a fleet of hydrogen generators operating offshore, powered by wave energy. The technology to make hydrogen from seawater already exists. If the hydrogen generators are built small enough, their processes shouldn't effect localized ocean salinity. Being small means that each hydrogen generator will not be extremely expensive. And starting small means that we can start right away – and not have to finance the effort (which would add to the cost).

Building a pipeline to Las Vegas might not be such a good idea until the hydrogen generators and power generators are fully functional. However, prototypes could (temporarily) use one of the natural gas pipelines that stretch from LA to LV.

Fuel cells would be the ultimate goal for any type of hydrogen generating power in Las Vegas. But until then, we may be able to retrofit an idle natural gas power generator – and utilize the water byproduct in the steam turbines.

The truth is, sooner or later, we will have to build alternative power generators anyway. So, why not consider starting now. It might actually be cheaper in the long run. It definitely will be far cleaner and less destructive.

Below are the calculations for a hydrogen pipeline operating at atmospheric pressure:

Hydrogen's density is 0.09 g/l.

.........................lbs/cu ft

0.09g/l X 0.062 g/l

= 0.0056 lbs/cu ft

so, 2,300 tons of hydrogen would be:

2,300 tons X 2000 lbs/ton

0.0056 lbs/cu ft

= 800,000,000 cu ft

If the hydrogen were not pressurized, this 800,000,000 cu ft would have to travel in the pipeline per day.

800,000,000 cu ft/day

24 hours/day X 3600 sec/hour

= 9,500 cu ft/sec

A 8 foot diameter pipe has the area (πR2) or 50 ft2

The velocity of the hydrogen would then be:

9,500 ft3/sec

50 ft2

= 190 ft/sec

190 ft/sec X 0.682 miles/hour


= 130 miles per hour

...which might be an acceptable velocity, since this is a gas. Of course, pressurization might be more cost effective. Further study is necessary.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Humpty Lumpty's sad fate in a coal fired power plant

Humpty Lumpty came from a mine.

Humpty Lumpty rode on a line.

Humpty Lumpty was burnt to an ash,

so far away strangers could end up with cash.

Humpty Lumpty boiled some steam,

from water taken from every stream.

Humpty Lumpty should have stayed put,

and left everything downwind not covered with soot.

Humpty Lumpty left us with a mess,

when there are better options – and that's not a guess.

Just remember:

All the kings whores, and all the king's men

can't put Humpty's chemicals back together again.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Exemption from Taxation Without Representation

Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) has bought a couple more ranches in Spring Valley. That's a couple more businesses that won't be paying taxes in White Pine County. That's a little more desperate our White Pine County officials will be for funds. But that's not all. Senate Bill 405 has been introduced. SB 405 is essentially the next step in a systematic effort to oppress Rural Nevada. Just how far can this go?

PLAN, the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, has published this:

Even as the Nevada Legislature is struggling to correct a two-year-old law that bans conservation groups from commenting on environmental actions by the state government, a new law could essentially ban both citizen groups and local governments from participating in the critical decision-making process over water rights applications.

The Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada is asking organizations and individuals to oppose Senate Bill 405, a sweeping overhaul of state water law that also attacks existing Nevada water law by telling the State Engineer, now the chief regulatory officer for the resource in the state, exactly how to do his job and what factors he can consider when deciding what is and isn’t “beneficial use.”

The bill is being pushed by Sen. Mark Amodei, a former partner of the lawyer for Vidler Water Co., a water marketing company that serves as the paid water agency for the Lincoln County government. Vidler is represented in the Legislature by the Las Vegas law firm of Kummer, Kaempfer, Bonner and Renshaw, of which Amodei is a partner.

Vidler and the Southern Nevada Water Authority are working to pump billions of gallons annually from rural Nevada and Utah to urban Clark County, a move that would destroy the environment and lifestyles in a huge area of the Great Basin.

Bob Fulkerson, PLAN executive director, noted that a hearing on Amodei’s bill Wednesday attracted lobbyists from Vidler, the SNWA and the growth and development lobby, which is banking on the Water Grab as fuel for continued out-of-control development in Southern Nevada.

We’re asking everyone who’s concerned about our environment and quality of life anywhere in Nevada to oppose this really terrible piece of legislation,” Fulkerson said. “If this passes, the public will be excluded from the decision-making process on some of our most critical environmental issues.

Last week, SWNA testified in favor of Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie's bill to motivate public participation in water decisions by extending the protest period on water applications,” he said. “This week, an army of SNWA lobbyists silently acquiesced to provisions in Amodei's bill to totally gut public participation. They can't have it both ways..."

A hearing on this bill has been scheduled for Wednesday, April 4, at 3:30 p.m. in the Senate Natural Resources Committee. So far, it does not appear to be scheduled for a video link to Las Vegas.

What You Can Do:

Call your Nevada Senator or Assembly member and indicate your concern about this bill. The hotline to contact your representatives in Carson City is (775) 684-3300 or email at

To express opposition or support for any bill, go to

For more information, contact Launce Rake at PLAN at (702) 791-1965.