Baker Bucket stops by Carson City, highlights opposition to water bills

by Roger Moellendorf and Brian Bahouth

Nevada State Senator Pete Goicoechea and Kyle Roerink executive director of the Great Basin Water Network offer comments near the Baker Bucket in front of the Nevada State Legislature on May 23, 2019 - photo: Roger Moellendorf

Carson City – Since 1989 there have been numerous and well-calculated efforts to alter Nevada water law to accommodate a plan to pump water from Nevada’s remote basin and range valleys through a 300 mile pipeline to Las Vegas, and since 1989 an unlikely coalition of activists and stakeholders have worked to oppose the change in Nevada water law. The 2019 Legislative Session is no exception.

Today in front of the Nevada State Legislature, the Baker Bucket as it is known was the centerpiece of a press conference organized by the Great Basin Water Network. The gathering highlighted opposition to a water bill still potentially alive in the 2019 session, AB30, and affirmed the ongoing fight against the exportation of water from rural Nevada to Las Vegas.

Kyle Roerink is executive director of the Great Basin Water Network and was master of ceremonies at the press conference. Roerink spoke with Nevada Capital News reporter Roger Moellendorf following in the event and described the meaning of the giant bucket on a trailer.

“This bucket that’s sitting out there, this 15 foot tall bucket, where it usually calls home is right at the entrance of Great Basin National Park in Baker, Nevada, and it is a symbol of the 30 year fight against the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s proposal to build a 300 mile, $15.5 billion pipeline that would suck water out of ancient aquifers in the heart of the Great Basin to send it to Las Vegas,” Roerink said.

Senator Pete Goicoechea is a Republican who represents Nevada’s vast Senate District 19, which effectively encompasses the entire eastern half of the state to include part or all of six counties: Clark, Elko, Eureka, Lincoln, Nye, White Pine.  Goicoechea is a rancher and veteran Republican lawmaker who has long opposed the pipeline. Today while offering comments near the bucket, Senator Goicoechea admitted he had ridden in and dispensed candy from the well-traveled Baker Bucket in an Elko parade. Goicoechea also said he was surprised to see a pair of important water bills this session, AB30 and AB62.

“Groundwater is a finite resource, and we now have over half the basins in the state at least totally appropriated and a number of them over-appropriated, so bills like AB62 and AB30 are huge,” Goicoechea said standing near the Baker Bucket parked in front of the Nevada State Legislature. “Coming into the session I thought it’d be a ho-hum, maybe a couple of fluff water bills, but unfortunately these got very contentious.”

AB62 passed a final vote of the Senate on May 23 on a 12 to 9 vote and is headed to the governor’s desk. AB30 has been placed on the Senate Secretary’s Desk and only has a chance to make Friday’s second house passage deadline if a lawmaker decides to bring it back into the legislative mix and it passes a vote of the full senate. Senator Goicoechea encouraged continued vigilance this session and beyond, but added that the prospect of inter-basin transfers of water was looming.

“There’s going to be some inter-basin transfers. We know that’s coming,” Goicoechea said. “We just want to make sure that they are done right and we protect the resources in our area.”

Abby Johnson is president of the Great Basin Water Network Board of Directors and spoke at the press conference – image – Roger Moellendorf

Until the deadline passes on Friday, there is a possibility that AB30 may resurface. Abby Johnson is president of the Great Basin Water Network Board of Directors and gave a concise explanation why AB30 is a distinct threat to Nevada water law and the conservation of the state’s natural resources.

“We’re here today in solidarity because AB30 is no drop in the bucket. It’s a big deal and it’s a big bucket,” Johnson said. “AB30 will undermine the bedrock principles of Nevada water law by allowing permits to be granted where conflicts exist. Currently, if someone applies for water, which would harm somebody else’s supply, that permit can’t be granted. AB30 would change that. AB30 expands the powers of the state engineer to give him or in the unlikely event her more discretion in choosing who gets water and who doesn’t. AB30 will give the powerful interests a greater ability to get water. The policy of three M (monitor, management, and mitigation) that’s already been talked about means more water going to big and powerful entities that currently cannot get water under Nevada water law. Great Basin and others have been in court for over 10 years, appealing decisions by the state engineer that do not conform to current water law. If AB30 is an attempt to avoid lawsuits, it will not achieve that goal. AB30 will create confusion and even more lawsuits,” Johnson said.

The coalition of groups working in opposition to the exportation of water from rural valleys is made up of political opposites united over the pipeline issue. Abby Johnson described the bucket as a symbol.

“The bucket is a symbol that in the driest state in the nation water is precious and despite the current weather limited. Dean Baker knew from his ranching experience that water levels are already declining. His message which you see behind me is that the Las Vegas pipeline project would destroy Eastern Nevada’s environment and would be harmful to Southern Nevada ratepayers because of the unaffordable $15.5 billion dollar cost for an uncertain and diminishing, temporary water supply. The water grab fight began in 1989, and we’re now in the 30th year. It was only this morning that I realized the irony of AB30 in the 30th year at 30 solves nothing. It complicates rather than clarifies. It is not supported by stakeholders. AB30 should end here and now,” Johnson said.

Laurie Thom is the chairwoman of the Yerington Paiute tribe and spoke out against AB30 – image – Roger Moellendorf

Laurie Thom is the chairwoman of the Yerington Paiute tribe and spoke at the press conference. The traditional name of the people who are members of the Yerington Paiute tribe is based on the word Taboose, the Nut Grass, or grass bulb that grows along the Walker River and was harvested as food by the earliest residents of the region. They are known as Taboose-ddukaka or Taboose eaters, but as Laurie Thom described, water diverted for agriculture has undermined her people’s namesake.

“We are no longer able to gather that Taboose on the reservation because there’s no more water to feed that plant, so we’ve lost our namesake on our reservation. So water is very important to the tribes. We want to make sure AB30 includes the tribe’s voice and the language that we need to protect the resources that are so powerful to us. Again, water is life.” Thom said.