The Nevada Appeal

Nuke dump fight centers on water
Appeal Capitol Bureau Chief

The Nevada Appeal
Sunday, February 15, 1998
Carson City, Nevada

State and local officials and Citizen Alert are preparing for a key battle in the war to keep nuclear waste out of Nevada.

Hearings are scheduled in May on the federal governments's applications for extensive water rights to serve the proposed Yucca Mountain waste storage facility

The hearings will be held before the state Division of Water Resources, which resolves disputes over water rights applications.

"It's going to be a pretty important event," said Bob Loux, head of the Nevada Nuclear Projects Agency.

"Clearly a lot of the state's legal challenges to the entire effort could be caught up in this water case."

Loux said the primary issue facing state Water Engineer Mike Turnipseed is "whether water permits can be granted for a state repository when state law prohibits a repository"

Nevada has been battling the federal Department of Energy since a long-term storage facility was first proposed in southern Nevada more than a decade ago.

"I didn't know this was going to be a career," said Loux, who has directed the state's effort to prevent storing the nation's level nuclear waste in Nevada since the beginning.

He said the issues Turnipseed will face are a "laundry list" of more than 14 items put together by the state, Citizen Alert, the Amargosa Town Board Water Committee and Southern Nevada Water Conservation District.

They challenge every aspect of the federal application for water, including arguing there is not unappropriated water available in the basin around Yucca Mountain.

Loux said all of those challenges are based on state law and that it's his understanding they will be decided by state water law.

The evidentiary hearing is scheduled for three days beginning May 26 in the Las Vegas City Council chambers.

But Loux said the issues are so numerous, Turnipseed has called a pre-hearing conference of the protesters to try consolidate some of their claims and shorten the hearing.

The pre-hearing is set for April 29 in Las Vegas.

In addition to the argument the state can't approve water use for an activity that is illegal in Nevada, the list includes that the proposed use conflicts with existing water rights, especially those held by the state to protect endangered pupfish and other species in the Ash Meadows area.

Opponents argue the amount of water the federal government wants could exceed what the basin can supply on a continuing basis.

Loux and the others also argue the proposed use is unconstitutional, would cause illegal pollution of groundwater supplies and generally be detrimental to the public interest.

"The questions are is this in the public interest and is it a beneficial use," said Loux.

"And. no matter what the decision is, the loser is going to challenge it and litigate it.

"We all see this going into the state court system but, from the state's point of view, that's probably a good place to be," he said.

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