Snails. Got to preserve the snails.

First it was tiny fish. Now anti-development extremists hope to use snails no bigger than your little fingernail as cat’s paws to block the Southern Nevada Water Authority plan to pipe groundwater here from east central Nevada.

In March, state regulators granted the authority permission to pump up to 27 billion gallons of groundwater a year from four valleys in Lincoln and White Pine counties.

Water officials want to tap rural groundwater to insulate the community from shortages on the Colorado River, which supplies about 90 percent of the valley’s drinking water. The multibillion-dollar network of pumps and pipelines would stretch more than 300 miles.

Now, for the record, this pipeline will indeed have some impact on water tables to the north, and should never be needed, anyway. In a sane world, the federal “Law of the River” would be changed, allowing urban users including Las Vegas to buy water rights on the open market from downstream users, including people now using that river water to grow cotton in the deserts of Arizona, and equally water-hungry crops in California. Stop those subsidies. Grow those crops where it rains.

But Nevada cannot act alone to change the “Law of the River” — which has been allocating most of the Colorado’s waters for just those uses for 80 years, since Las Vegas was a mere whistle-stop.

Restoring cattle grazing in the upstream states — Utah and Coloroado — would also help. Federal land use policies have driven cattle (and cattle ranchers) off most of these lands. Grazing animals thin out water-hungry plants, allowing more rainfall to flow downstream. Without them, the upstream watersheds clog with riparian plants that act like giant green sponges. Lake Mead dwindles.

Again, Nevadans are just as powerless to save the historic ranching lifestyle from remorseless regulators upstream, as they are to do so here.

The Southern Nevada Water Authority has set no deadline to start building its pipe. Rather, the Authority is going through the approval process now, long before they expect the project to be needed, anticipating years of rate-payer expense battling frivolous “environmental” lawsuits.

Happy to oblige, the Center for Biological Diversity announced in late April it will sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service unless the agency acts on a 2009 petition to protect 35 spring snail species under the Endangered Species Act.

The Tucson, Ariz.-based anti-development group put the federal agency on notice that the lawsuit will be filed in 60 days unless the Fish and Wildlife Service does the group’s bidding, said Rob Mrowka, the group’s Nevada spokesman.

Mr. Mrowka said the tiny snails could be wiped out if the water authority is allowed to pump groundwater to Las Vegas from across rural Clark, Lincoln and White Pine counties.

“The snails have a very narrow ecological window,” Mrowka said. “They’re kind of an early warning (system) for other species.”

How handy.

The center already is locked in a lawsuit with the federal government over the Moapa dace, an endangered fingerling found only in the headwaters of the Muddy River, 60 miles north of Las Vegas.

Mrowka and company contend the dace could be wiped out by large-scale groundwater pumping in a neighboring valley by the water authority and the (now bankrupt) developers of a boom-time mirage known as Coyote Springs.

Opponents of the Water Authority’s pipeline project insist it will drain springs, draw down the water table, destroy native wildlife, ruin rangeland (as though most of them don’t oppose all grazing, in the first place), trigger dust storms that will foul the air as far away as Salt Lake City, and bring on the next Ice Age.

OK, they haven’t mentioned the Ice Age … yet.

But does anyone believe Mr. Mrowka and his associates spend blissful hours soaking in these remote desert springs, gaining transcendental bliss from knowing that the snails and minnows in question — stranded there by accident when the inland sea that once covered the region drained in a series of prehistoric floods — still hang on?

Does anyone believe that if the snails in question were to die out naturally, the Center for Biological Diversity wouldn’t be back in a week or two, naming some new and previously unnoticed, microscopic weed or bug as equally in need of federal protection?

The game here is to block any development of a natural resource which would be useful to mankind, the only species for which such activists never seem to spare any concern.

It’s no use suggesting Mr. Mrowka and company stop filing their lawsuits — they’ll be filing another one on the day the great meteor hits. (And who will they sue, then?)

Nor does it do much good to advise the federal courts to throw them out. Judges lacking patience with absurd filings don’t last long.

No, the solution lies on Capitol Hill. Prior to about 1970, anyone seeking to file such a lawsuit would have been asked by sensible judges: “How do you gain standing, here? Do you own property that you can show has been reduced in value by the building of this pipeline? What direct economic damage have you suffered?”

But the Endangered Species Act of 1973 — along with similar acts from the same era — includes provisions essentially waiving such requirements, granting an easy presumption of “standing” to groups like the Center for Biological Diversity to sue federal agencies seeking more rigorous enforcement of the act, without requiring them to show how the death of the specified weed, bug or snail will cause them any direct economic harm.

At the least, Congress needs to re-visit those provisions, setting some limit on how long a given project can be delayed, or at what cost, or even — dare to think it — restoring sensible requirements for plaintiff “standing,” while limiting enforcement to a specified list of the kind of totemic species that were discussed by lawmakers when the Act was first authorized: the bison, the grizzly bear, the bald eagle and the like.

Whose “environment” is it we’re protecting? The human environment, of course. And it is hubris to pretend mankind can continue to survive in an (at best) indifferent world when the Congress wilfully enables all his efforts to provide his progeny with food, water, and energy to be systematically, relentlessly, indefinitely stymied by the perverse exertions of a small handful of “environmental” zealots, worshippers of a fearful nature goddess in whose realm there is no room for the arch polluter, humankind.

One Comment to “Snails. Got to preserve the snails.”

  1. John Taylor Says:

    Someone please cite for me the clause in the US Constipation that authorizes the ESA. Surely the poor old overtaxed “general welfare” clause in the Preamble is demonstrably more likely to apply _against_ such an act.

    Or am I to be persuaded that the “general welfare” includes that of all species inhabitants of this once-fair nation? The snail darter? The spotted hooter? Politicus horribilis?