Governor Will Not Sign Snake Valley Water Deal

Apr 3, 2013

Credit Salt Lake Tribune / U.S.G.S.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said Wednesday he will not sign off on a controversial water deal in the Snake Valley on the Utah-Nevada border.

An agreement more than four years in the making would extract water from an underground aquifer in the region and deliver it to Southern Nevada. In a statement released today, Herbert said a majority of affected Utah residents don’t support the agreement, and he said the Snake Valley debate has been the most complex and emotional issue he’s faced since taking office.

Great Basin National Park, the Utah Rivers Council and the Goshute Indian Tribe also opposed the deal, citing concerns about changes to the environment. Zach Frankel with the Utah Rivers Council praised the governor’s move.

“This is a wonderful decision the governor has made for all Utahns,” he said. “The $15 billion water project would have been a tragedy for the West Desert, creating an impact on a land area the size of Vermont, and a dust bowl that would create dust problems across the entire Intermountain West.”

The deal would have allocated 21 billion gallons of water to each state per year. Millard County Commissioner Daron P. Smith said extracting the water would affect the way of life for ranchers in the region.

“Most of our residents – we’ve got got a couple small communities out in the west desert – that aquifer out there really affects the western side of our county and the western side of Utah,” said Smith. “Water’s a huge issue in Utah and Millard County. It’s a very rare resource. And you always want that rare resource protected.”   

Herbert’s decision not to sign the deal is not the final word, however. The Southern Nevada Water Authority could pursue a similar deal in the future, though Smith says it’s unlikely to succeed.