Dozens of people from western Utah and Nevada protested at the federal building here against a proposal to take groundwater from their remote desert region and send it to thirsty, growing Las Vegas.
The protesters contended pumping the water away would devastate their livelihoods and the land.
"We have no surplus water in the Snake Valley," rancher Cecil Garland of Callao said. "The taking of the water means the destruction of the habitat. And the destruction of the habitat is a not-so-subtle form of genocide."
The Southern Nevada Water Authority wants to drill wells on the Nevada side of the valley and use a 500-mile pipe network to send the water to Las Vegas.
The proposal calls for a yearly withdrawal of 25,000 acre-feet, and the water authority says studies show as much as 100,000 acre-feet of water is available annually in aquifers under the valley.
More research needed before plan approved
Water authority spokesman C.J. Davis said last week that no water will be tapped unless ongoing studies by the U.S. Geological Survey and the Bureau of Land Management confirm those estimates.
"We don't want to see a precedent like this set with west desert water," said Juab County Commissioner Neil Cook at the federal building Wednesday. "We need to keep it for the people who eke out a living there. We need to keep it a special place for everybody."
The water authority says tapping in-state water sources is crucial to meeting future demand as Nevada outgrows its supply from the Colorado River, which is shared by other Western states.
An acre-foot is the amount of water that would cover an acre to a depth of 1 foot. It is enough to supply up to two households for a year.