But Snake Valley residents won't call that proposed delay a victory -- even if the agreement were signed. If the Snake Valley is spared -- or saved for later -- residents are still uneasy about the prospect of pumping in the basin next door.
"Stopping them from coming and drilling wells in Snake Valley isn't enough," said Anderson, the Callao rancher, "because if we turn our backs, they drill their wells in Spring Valley." Because water basins in the two valleys are interconnected, pumping in Spring Valley to the west would take water that could have otherwise ended up under Anderson's Snake Valley ranch.
No love for Vegas
From his office building a few blocks from Las Vegas' historic Fremont Street, Entsminger, the SNWA deputy manager, says he is resigned to the fact that he'll never win over many of the rural opponents like Anderson. "You're not going to convince everybody that this project is a good idea."
Davis, the spokesman, chimes in that opponents are too quick to paint Las Vegas as a bully in the water fight, using terms like "siphoning" and "water grab" to describe SNWA's pipeline proposal.
"The notion of a water grab is absolutely laughable," he said. "We're a public agency; we're not out here profiteering."
Las Vegas is often criticized as being inherently unsustainable. "Slow growth seems to be anathema to Las Vegas; it's growth at all costs," said Ferguson, the park superintendent.
Entsminger dismisses that accusation. Las Vegas is logically situated on major highways and railroads between Salt Lake City and Los Angeles, he said, and people will continue to move there and to the rest of the Southwest. "People will still wake up in Milwaukee and get tired of shoveling snow," he said.
The water authority has tried other ways to manage water. Conservation efforts have been aggressive. Since 2003, more than 25,000 acre-feet of its wastewater was recovered for use on golf courses and to cool power plants.
Las Vegas has also explored a form of desalination exchange, in which the city would fund a desal plant on the Pacific Coast and, instead of transporting water over the distance, would trade it for additional Colorado River allocations.
Bright lights or beef?
But Entsminger worries about putting too much hope in desal, another project in the multibillion-dollar range and similarly fraught with regulatory challenges. Without the pipeline, Entsminger says, he cannot guarantee that the water authority can provide for the people of southern Nevada for the next 50 years, "and that has a chilling effect on the entire economy of the state."
Without a secure water supply, the state and local governments will have trouble selling bonds, the Las Vegas Strip will have less favorable deals when refinancing debt, and the area will struggle to attract major new businesses.
The Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce has pushed for the pipeline's approval. So have Caesars Entertainment, Wynn Resorts, Zephyr Partners and plenty other Strip businesses.
"Our economic viability as a region and as an international tourist destination is dependent upon a reliable water source that will be available to accommodate any growth we may see into the future," said Kim Sinatra, senior vice president of Wynn Resorts, in a letter to BLM.
Davis, the spokesman, says a big part of his job is fighting the image problem Las Vegas has with opponents.
"They characterize Las Vegas as 'gambling, gluttony and girls.' I guess we're a victim of our own marketing," he said. But "mostly, it is middle-class people doing middle-class things, getting their kids to soccer games, and trying to get through their lives just like everybody else."