Las Vegas is still growing. Las Vegas is in the middle of the desert. Las Vegas is running out of water.
Cows graze on almost all the public lands in Nevada. Land grazed by cows is easy to spot, covered in invasive grasses, cowpies, stream banks cut deep and straight with muddy hoof prints all the way to the bottom. The cost to run a cow and calf for a month on these lands is $1.35. On the allotment we visited today, 15,000 cows graze and the Bureau of Land Management takes in about $22,000 per year from the permitee. A recently constructed irrigation trough and pipeline on this land cost $400,000, paid for by the BLM. It’s full of algae with a dead bird wing buried somewhere under the muck.
Las Vegas wants to build a pipeline to Spring Valley to pump water from an underground aquifer. This water will go to feed its green lawns and the rainforests built inside casinos.
Nevada has a Senate seat up for reelection this fall. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, will face off against Sharon Angle. Reid has consistently supported gold mining in Nevada, pushing hard against reform of the General Mining Act of 1872. Because of this act, prospective gold miners can acquire a claim for $5 an acre on federal lands. If gold is found, they pay no royalties to the government.
Between 1951 and 1992, there were a total of 1,021 test of nuclear weapons conducted at the Nevada Test Site. One hundred of these were above ground. The radioactive fallout blew downwind into Utah and southern Nevada. Some of it ended up in Spring Valley.
In the East, where is rains, you measure land in cows per acre. In the West, where there is a desert, you measure in acres per cow. The math will give a solution between 25 and 150 acres.
A dumptruck full of gold ore will yield about one ring’s worth of gold. To get it out of the rock, you use cyanide. The waste from this process sits in ponds, sometimes lined, sometimes not. If the original prospector goes broke or can’t be found, the government pays to clean up the mining waste.
If Las Vegas takes the water out of Spring Valley, the land will dry up. The soil will become dust and the dust will become airborne. The dust is volcanic soil and is full of a carcinogen as potent as asbestos. The dust blew into the valley as fallout from the Nevada Test Site. The dust is full of tiny particles which have a knack for working their way into the moist linings of human lungs and staying there.
Sharon Angle, the Republican challenging Harry Reid for Senate, has called the separation of church and state “unconstitutional.”
Cows need water to drink. Cows need hay to eat and hay needs water to grow. You get water in the West by damming rivers or pumping it out of the ground.
Las Vegas is the fastest growing city in the United States. The Strip is covered in homeless men too resigned to ask for spare change. The neighborhoods outside feature fences topped with barbed wire and billboards advertising attorneys who can fight DUIs.
As climate change occurs, the West will become hotter and drier. Reservoirs will evaporate faster. River and stream flows will decrease because the glaciers on the mountains that feed them are disappearing.
About ninety percent of the population of Nevada lives in Clark County, where Las Vegas is located, or in Reno. You can’t get elected in Nevada unless you support what Clark County and Reno want. And right now, they want their pipeline.
Cows trample biotic soil crusts. These crusts are made of mosses, lichens and microorganisms. They hold soil together, retain moisture, increase the productivity of adjacent plants and fix nitrogen and carbon into the soil. Without them, the soils blow away and water evaporates faster. Without them, the land becomes more desert and less water. Cows need water. Las Vegas needs water. The people of Spring Valley need water.
This entry is part of my journal from Semester in the West. For all SITW journal entries, click here. For all SITW posts, including blog posts I wrote while on the program, click here. To learn more about the program, click here.