The folks at the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) are spreading ill will across rural Nevada counties like they were using a fertilizer spreader.
A lawsuit filed in Clark County district court earlier this month resurrects allegations that the SNWA has been lying to ratepayers about the profitability of a string of ranches the water district purchased several years ago in Lincoln and White Pine counties in order to acquire their water rights for potential piping to Las Vegas.
According to Courthouse News Service, “retired” SNWA controller Randall Buie has sued the water district, saying he was forced out for refusing to falsify reports that would make it appear the seven ranches were profitable when they were actually losing money.
In 2007 and 2008 SNWA bought 23,000 acres of ranches for $80 million, reportedly well above market value at the time.
According to minutes from a 2012 SNWA board of directors meeting, the district was claiming the ranches had earned an annual profit of $260,000.
Buie’s complaint alleges the ranches were losing $2 million a year. “From the moment they were purchased, said ranches have been unprofitable, contrary to representations by defendants to the board of directors, ratepayers, and the media,” Buie is quoted as saying.
He claims he was “harassed and bullied into assisting in creating special ranch reports” that were false.
Buie’s suit says he told his employers in 2012 he would no longer produce false reports, and a year later he was told he would no longer be controller and was given the choice of demotion or retiring. He retired in March 2014.
Meanwhile, neighboring ranchers have been having run-ins with the authority.
One rancher, whose family has been ranching in the area for 150 years, said SNWA ranch managers are disregarding longstanding grazing agreements.
Kena Gloeckner said that over the years there have been a number of agreements made between the cattle and sheep ranchers. For example, in 1963 in Dry Lake Valley the ranchers agreed that during winter grazing the sheep would remain on the east side and the cattle on the west side of the unfenced valley.
Gloeckner said the ranch manager denied allowing the SNWA Dry Lake ranch’s 6,000 sheep to encroach on range set aside for cattle and even onto fenced private land and reservoirs, but some of the sheep have GPS tracking collars that prove they did. The BLM had to force the sheep to be moved, she said, and other ranchers have had to hire expensive attorneys to challenge the SNWA.
Echoing the concerns of the retired controller, the rancher declared, “There is no way they can ever come close to making a profit on their ranch, because they are driving around in brand new pickups with tax exempt plates and they have a ranching manager.” According to TransparentNevada.com, that manager was paid more than $180,000 in salary and benefits in 2014.
“I don’t know if their goal is to put all the other ranchers out of business,” she said. “We all have vested water rights. If the pipeline does go through and it interferes with those vested water rights? When we were at the water hearings that question came up.” She said the SNWA attorney replied the ranchers could take them to court.
“If the pipeline does drain our springs dry, ranchers don’t have the financial ability to fight someone like that,” she said.
In 2009, the owner of Cave Valley Ranch did take the SNWA to court and won a $4 million judgment to compensate for potential loss of water rights.
So far the courts have blocked the water authority’s efforts to pipe rural groundwater to Las Vegas, saying monitoring and mitigation standards are inadequate. Should the project be built, it is estimated Las Vegas water rates would triple. The groundwater where the ranches are located could essentially dry up, according to studies by the U.S. Geological Survey, harming ranchers, farmers and wildlife.
It is time for SNWA to end this nonsense. — TM